Being a seafarer is all about being away from home. Usually that is ok, we learn to cope. During the holiday season the pain and pressure can intensify – so what is it like to be away from home at special times and how can you cope?
There are many great things about a career at sea, but one of the not so hot issues is having to cope with spending holidays away from home, family and friends. Especially when they are all celebrating special occasions or festivals.
Whether it is Christmas or Diwali, Ramadan or Thanksgiving, there will be celebrations, special times and things going on back at home that seafarers will feel disconnected from.
Sadly being away at such times can really magnify the sense of isolation and disconnect. There can be feelings of sadness, resentment, perhaps even anger. These can have a bad effect at sea, and so it is important to consider what can be done to lesser the effect.
Keeping a brave face is one way of coping – but really, that stiff upper lip isn’t going to lessen the effect inside. So just how do people at sea cope and stay relatively happy away from family, when the rest of the world is partying, celebrating or spending holy times of reflection?
So as we know, separation from family and friends during the holidays is difficult. While nothing can fill the void of missing family members, there are a few things you can do to make the separation easier for all of you. Remember the separation is temporary and treat it as such. Eventually you will be reunited…the calendar will flick its pages, the clock will tick, so remember you will be home again before too long.
Here are some things you can do to ease the loneliness and sadness.
1) Try to keep some traditions: Doing things as you normally would is comforting. It may not always be practical at sea, but trying to do something special to mark the occasion can help ease the pain.
2) Invite crewmate to help you decorate or to share a means of celebrating: Usually, even in multicultural crews there will be others sharing the same sense of sadness and longing. So work together to banish the missing, it’s good to talk or to do some activities which can make you feel closer to home.
3) Take time Out: You may not be able to have time off duty or watch, but perhaps even finding a little time to do something special to mark the occasion can help. A few minutes out of your normal schedule to either enjoy a new activity, chat or to reflect can be powerful enough to help.
4) Call your family, email or send a video card to loved ones. Connected ships with internet are great, and allow seafarers to communicate. Onboard such vessels this is easier – for others, not so. But you can perhaps schedule a call or save some cash to even spend just a few minutes to chat with those at home. Remember, they will be just as excited to hear from you as you are to speak to them.
5) Journal your feelings. Share your journal when you get home. It has been proven that writing can ease stress and upset. So take some time out to write about your feelings, perhaps holidays of the past, or of what you are looking forward to doing in the future.
6) Music soothes the savage beast. It’s not just writing that can be cathartic – any form of art or pursuit can help. So why not make a music playlist for each of your friends, or for the party you will have when you get home. Perhaps you can practice with Photoshop and create some works of art from the pictures of your latest trip.
7) Surround yourself with pictures of family and friends. With so many seafarers having smart phones, tablets and laptops – even if you cannot get online, there will be many photos on your device. Taking some time out to look through them, perhaps looking at them more closely, remembering when they were taken and the feelings they brought.
8) Sleep: Yes it may sound boring, but treating yourself to the luxury of a little extra sleep may be useful. It has the added effect of helping make the time go faster, and makes you feel better. Work time notwithstanding, it can be a really luxurious thing to take the time to nap. So get your PJs on and say Zzzzz to the holidays.
If can perhaps be all too easy to focus on the person away – but those left at home can suffer too. It isn’t always possible to maintain the “holiday spirit” when a big part of it is bouncing around on the ocean, far from home.
For that reason it is important for people left at home to try and fill the void. They should try and focus on enjoying the time, but remembering too. Documenting the event with photos and video can be a great way to mark the occasion.
To take the pressure off a little, it can be good to plan a re-run – so a special “home coming” version of the big day. Perhaps a meal planned and as many friends booked to attend as possible.
Following these tips won’t bring your loved one home any sooner, but they can make the separation easier. You will bring a smile to your loved one’s face and remind them how much you love and miss them through this difficult time.
The holiday season can be a happy time – but it can be stressful too. It is really important that those at sea and those at home are able to deal with the time in a sensible, happy and light-hearted manner.
It is hard, but there should be no recriminations – no arguing, sulking or stress. Trying to ensure that those at sea are not burdened with problems they can’t fix is important. Telling them that the lights are broken, the chairs missing or that there isn’t enough money in the bank is only going to add to the stress.
So it is important that both the seafarer and family are able to work together to make it better, to cope together and to get through it. Look back on happy times, look ahead to even better days – don’t dwell on the sad facts of the day. But just be strong and know that good times are coming.
How do you feel when you’re away from family and friends at special times – do you have a plan to cope? We want to know how you deal with separation.