“How can I face Mother’s Day when mom is no longer living?” “How will I get through Graduation Day when our son, who died so suddenly, should have been among those graduating this year?” “How will I get through her birthday, or our anniversary, or that wedding?” “Every Friday night our family ate pizza and watched a movie; now on Fridays, there’s a feeling of emptiness” “I don’t know how to get through those special days.”
When someone we love dies, we miss them in many ways and on many special days. Thinking of a special day may once have filled you with eager anticipation, but now you may approach it with dread. It is often difficult when that particular day for celebration was a favorite of the person who died. Grief can be very painful on occasions when you got together and shared with your loved one. While friends and family gather, you may feel lonely and sad.
How can I prepare myself to get through those special days?
Here are some suggestions that may help to ease the pain of your loneliness and assist you in your healing process. Please keep in mind that there is no single right way to be with your grief. Do what is most helpful for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Acknowledge that it won’t be the same this time or this year. Someone important in your life is gone and you may feel that you are not the same person. Death creates changes we cannot control. Try not to act as if nothing has changed. Your life has changed and accepting this reality can help you begin to move forward. Remember to be kind to yourself during those special days without your loved one.
- Many say the anticipation is worse than the day itself. Prior to upcoming special days, it may be helpful to pay attention to your thoughts. Do you catch yourself with negative thoughts like “I can’t handle this.” Try to change these thoughts into something more positive, such as “I need to stay focused on the present; I can get through this day.”
- Express your needs. Let others know about the special dates so that they can be supportive as you go through difficult times. Let them know what might be helpful and what you want and need for that special day.
- Planning ahead for special days can be very helpful. There are ways to make them meaningful, yet different from the past. The key is to create rituals and activities that honor your personal needs and the memory of your loved one. Perhaps you will choose to do some of the activities you used to do together, while also finding new ways to bring meaning and healing to that day.
Rituals increase the sense of personal power in an otherwise powerless situation.
There is probably nothing that leaves us feeling more powerless than the death of a loved one. When you repeat old rituals or create new ones, you choose symbols and actions that help you to make the transition to new ways of being in your life. Rituals can help you continue the journey of healing, allowing you to express your feelings of grief while helping you to accept the loss of your loved one. Rituals encourage you to remember and honor the relationship that you have lost. They are ways to express the on-going love you feel, even though the person has died.
Some people find comfort in keeping traditions as much the same as possible.
If that is true for you, find ways to remember your loved ones during those occasions when you may miss them the most. Here are some examples of ways to acknowledge and include them:
- You might want to light a candle at a table to symbolize their continuing presence in your life.
- Perhaps you would like to write a greeting card and place it where everyone can sign it. You might want to set aside some time to share stories.
- It can be very comforting to remember your loved one together with family and friends. You might want to choose a particular activity enjoyed by your loved one and do that in her or his memory: singing special carols, playing basketball, eating a favorite dessert, or visiting a special place.
Some people find comfort in creating new and different rituals.
Creating new rituals can be a way to acknowledge and accept that your loved one is gone but not forgotten. It is okay to find ways that honor your loved one without doing old traditions. When you make changes, try to avoid judgmental thoughts like: “I’m being weak,” “I’m avoiding reality,” or “I’m betraying my loved one.” The following are some examples of what other families have done. (Refer to the article “rituals… a way to heal and honor your loved one” for additional ideas.)
- One family decided to introduce a new tradition – to make a scrapbook of the loved one to display each year as a part of their new holiday tradition.
- One family decided that instead of staying home after the death of their loved one, they would take a trip together. Just being in an entirely new environment was helpful.
- Another family made a collage together about their loved one from old magazines.
- Another family got out a box of old pictures and began looking at them, making comments and sharing stories.
- One family set a time to give some personal belongings of their loved one to other family members and friends. Consider having a basket ready of personal items to give to others – gifts from your loved one to each person.
- Some families choose to ignore a special occasion. This does not mean that they have forgotten their loved one. Instead they decided to take care of themselves by reducing the dread of a particular event. When you give yourself permission to discard some things “you have always done before,” you may relieve a great deal of pressure.
Whatever you decide, respect your own grief.
When you choose what is meaningful and eliminate what is stressful, you can move toward those special days and, hopefully, find them to be bearable, comforting, and healing. It won’t be the same this year. Someone you loved has died. However, your memories will not die. Your rituals and traditions can help you and your family learn how to survive “those days” and how to grow from them.
Adapted from “Getting through Special Days” by Patti Homan, Pathways Center for Grief & Loss; “Those Special Days” by Pat and Russ Wittberger, and “It Won’t Be the Same This Year” by Dr. Linda E. Jordan.
Provided by Gerard’s House, a grief support center for children, teenagers and their families in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For more information please contact us at (505) 424-1800 or gerardshouse.org.
This article was published in “The Grieving Heart,” written and edited by Bob Dorsett, LLC, www.silentseas.net