Facing Special Days

“How can I face Mother’s Day when my mother is no longer living?”
“How will I get through graduation when our son, who died so suddenly, should have been among those graduating this year?”
“How will I cope with his birthday, or our anniversary, or that wedding?”

Special days that may once have filled you with eager anticipation may now leave you feeling anxious as you look ahead. For many, the anticipation may be worse than the actual day. Having a plan can help, but be flexible and know that you may change your mind when the day actually arrives. If you are hurting, don’t pretend otherwise. Choose someone you feel safe with and be honest about how you are feeling. If your energy is low and you are not prepared for large family or social gatherings, draw the line. Say no. Watch a good movie, read a new book, treat yourself to something different.

Consider the following suggestions as these special days draw closer: 

Tell others what you need.
Let them know about special dates, so they are aware of possible rough times. Suggest how they might support you.

Reflect on what you want and need to do.
Separate this from what others want you to do, even if they are offering you their advice.

Pace yourself, don’t push yourself.
Yet it’s okay to keep busy too, to a degree. 

Focus on positive thoughts.
Do you find yourself thinking negative thoughts such as “I can’t handle this”? Try changing these thoughts into something more positive, such as “I need to stay focused on the present; I can get through today.” You might be surprised how helpful this change in thinking can be.

Keep traditions.
What would you have done on that day together? Can you revise that same tradition to help you get through the day? Or, if not, can you consider a new tradition? You may want to visit a special place that reminds you of your loved one.

Make a collage of your loved one.
Collages can be created with pictures, written sayings, or anything that was special. Done as a family project, it can help family members to talk about their grief.

Try to remember instead of trying to forget.
It can help to plan activities or rituals to remember and reminisce about the person who died. Buy flowers, light a candle, plant a tree, or visit the cemetery. Include your loved one’s name in conversations. If others realize that you are comfortable talking about the person, it will help them see that this person and the memories are still an important part of your life. Expect that it may be difficult. You may be surprised to discover moments of healing or comfort on that special day.

by Patti Anewalt, PhD, LPC, FT, Director of the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss with Hospice & Community Care
Journeys with Grief: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2018.