During the days, weeks or months after someone very close to you dies, there will likely be special events that will certainly be very different without your loved one. Most families observe cultural and religious traditions on occasions such as holidays, weddings, graduations, anniversaries, reunions. Holidays and special events are reminders that life goes on around you. You may feel emotionally torn as you think of the ways holidays and celebrations have been traditionally observed in your family, and in your life with your loved one and how you are going to celebrate them now, without your loved one. You may feel anxious, sad, and empty and long to have your loved one a part of the special times that usually involve the whole family. You may wish you could celebrate the way you did before your loved one died. You may wish you could just skip right over these days on the calendar. You may feel several things at once.
What to Expect as You Face the Special Times
~The first year after the death will be hard--but not necessarily the hardest. Some people are in a state of fog or numbness and find the second or third year anniversary days harder than the first. There are no predictable rules about grief. His or her birthday and the anniversary of his or her death will be two very difficult days. If you have lost your spouse, the anniversary of your wedding will be also be very difficult. Your own birthday can be a very hard day. This can take some people by surprise.
~Even if you seem "better", the sadness and pain may return at these times and other holidays or special occasions for many years to come. These are normal feelings. Grief is a normal and healthy response to the death of someone we love.
~Also try to remember that it is OK to celebrate and enjoy these times if you feel like it. It is OK to laugh and to cry at the same time. You might be surprised how quickly you can go from laughing to crying. We can hold joy and pain simultaneously.
~May choose to celebrate and participate in holidays and other special occasions as they always have in the past, finding comfort in the sameness, but others may find that doing things as they've always done them is incredibly painful and too difficult to manage.
~May choose to do completely different things during the holidays and special events. They may not participate in any of the usual activities or traditions.
~May try to balance participation in holiday activities and cope with the pain and sadness of missing their loved one.
These are difficult and personal choices.
~What you and your family decide to do for birthdays, anniversaries, during the holidays, or for other special events are your choice.
~Your participation in these events may be very different during the first year or so. After a while, you may go back to normal activities or permanently change the way you observe and celebrate some holidays and special occasions.
~Celebrating holidays and special events will reflect your cultural background and traditions. It is important for you to value these traditions because they are part of your life during happy and sad times.
Making Special Times More Tolerable
As you approach an anniversary, holiday or special event, make a plan to do something to remember your loved one and to help ease your anxiety as the day approaches. Anticipating such an occasion is often worse than the actual event. Having a personal memorial service or ritual, or going to the cemetery, before or on the day of, might bring comfort for you. Do have a plan for those days—you don’t have to follow through with the plan if you don’t want to. But have one anyway. Having a plan and choosing not to follow it, is far better than having no plan and finding yourself not knowing what to do with yourself on that day. Your plan be something as simple as simple as planning a visit the cemetery, sitting quietly with a photo or other reminder of your loved one, or dinner out with family to something more elaborate such as a tree planting, a large gathering of friends and family—it is entirely your choice.
~Realize that sadness and confusion will likely remain with you during these times, particularly in early grief—even with a plan. Continuing to have feelings of deep sadness, anger, pain, confusion, or feeling a loss of control, is okay.
~Feel free to make changes in the way you celebrate holidays and special events. These changes can be temporary or permanent.
~Take care to remember that others (children, family members) will want to continue to celebrate the occasion as usual.
~Think of starting a new tradition in memory of your loved one.
~Talk or write to other bereaved people who have had a similar type of loss. Find out how they have coped with the special occasions.
Getting Through Holidays
The whole world seems consumed with merry-making, every place filled with decorations and lights and especially at the Winter Holiday season, people fairly ooze with holiday spirit. The holidays can make those who are grieving even more painfully aware of the terrible hole in their hearts. Here are some helpful thoughts which other bereaved people have shared, with the hope of making your holiday season easier:
~Actively grieving persons have definite limitations, especially early in grief: we do not function at normal capacity; therefore, we must know our limitations, reevaluate our priorities and decide what is really meaningful for ourselves and our family.
~We must decide what we can handle comfortably and let these needs be known to family, friends. We may have to communicate some difficult things, such as whether we can handle the responsibility of the family dinner, or holiday parties, whether we will stay around for the holidays, etc.
~Don't be afraid to make changes. Have dinner at a different time; attend a different church; let children or friends take over the decorating or making cookies, wrapping or even shopping, change the way you decorate, or if you decorate, or what you cook, etc.
~Our greatest comfort may come in doing something for others. Giving a gift in memory of your loved one; donating money we would have spent on gifts to your loved one to a particular charity; adopting a needy family, inviting a guest to share our festivities. Each holiday season, we encourage others to perform acts of kindness, large or small, in memory of our son and those they love who have died at Theo's Christmas Stocking. Also check out the MISS Foundation's Kindness Project for inspiration.
~Find a creative outlet. Write a poem or story about your loved one, create a work of art, put together a scrapbook or memory book, whatever you like and share it with others if you wish. Check out my friend Kara's blog Exploring Grief Using Radical Creativity for some inspiring and thought provoking ideas!
~Balance solitude with sociability. Solitude can renew strength but being social can be equally as important. Spend some time with close friends and family.
~Call another person with a similar loss who has experienced a holiday without their loved one and find out what they did to make things easier. There can be some relief just by knowing that you are not alone.
Also check out Surviving the Holiday Season in the Midst of Grief. Memories The memories of your loved one are some of the most important "keepsakes" you will have. You can treasure them. You can share them with others. Family and friends often feel they will cause you more pain by talking about the one who has died. Let them know if you want to talk, and together you can share memories. As time passes, happy memories of your loved one will gradually replace the sad ones, and you will be able to laugh and to celebrate again.
"What we have once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us." ~Helen Keller