By Haley Brink, Therapist
It’s not easy to be away from the ones you love during the holidays, there’s no way around that. This year marked the first Thanksgiving that I have spent away from my immediate family since my husband and I moved to the Big Island this past Spring. That’s part of being an adult, I suppose, but it’s still tough.
For the students that I work with at Pacific Quest, homesickness is normal and expected. We talk about it often and I help them find ways to cope and feel good about standing on their own two feet. The holidays make this homesickness more poignant, and my work during this time of year involves coaching students and their parents through the experience of being apart. I can certainly empathize with their feelings and longing to be together.
My work as a therapist at Pacific Quest outdoor therapy program has provided me with plenty of evidence that time and distance are often the best medicine for wounded relationships. Parents and children appreciate one another in new ways when they can only communicate by letters. The students I work with often remark that coming to Pacific Quest helped them discover gratitude for their families for the first time. I think that this is because we can’t see things clearly when we are standing right in the thick of them. Perspective only is possible when we step back far enough to see the entire picture.
Spending the Thanksgiving holiday with Pacific Quest students recently was not only great fun, but also helped me to see my own family with renewed clarity and appreciation. We ate a meal that we all helped prepare and enjoyed a break from the usual routine. We talked about our families back on the mainland and took pleasure in the torrential downpours that made it feel more like fall. We laughed at how ridiculous it is to eat pumpkin pie with chopsticks. I felt a certain sense of camaraderie with my students experiencing their first holiday away from home.
Driving home that evening, I reflected on the things I am grateful for, including my own family, the families I work with, and the opportunity to live on a tropical island and do work that is meaningful and fulfilling. Nonetheless, the holiday was bittersweet for me like I’m sure it was for many Pacific Quest students and their parents. We ask our students to reflect on what they are thankful for rather than thinking about what they are missing out on, and I remind myself to do the same. When I do this, I see my life for what it is and realize that it’s pretty great, even if I do miss my mom’s sweet potato pie.