Dealing with special occasions after the loss of a loved one

Grief affects us all in different ways and there is no specific time period that it takes to stop grieving.

The loss of a loved one will be with you for the rest of your life, but whereas some days you will cope fine, other days will be a struggle. It is common for some days to be particularly emotional and sad if it is spent celebrating a special occasion. Whether it is the birthday of your loved one, a birthday within the family, a wedding, an anniversary, Mother’s Day or Christmas, these will be days that can trigger intense emotion and grief, however they can also be days of celebration and reflection.

In this article we discuss the common struggles people find when they reach these special occasions, alongside some tips to help you cope and get through the day.

Personal vs Public Holidays

Some days are going to be difficult because the dates are personal to you and your loved one. A birthday or family wedding are examples of these events. If there is a family wedding, for example, you could end up with feelings of resentment as although you are happy for the couple, you are sad that your loved one couldn’t be there or perhaps never got the chance to get married when they were alive. Large, public celebrations are difficult as well due to the number of people who are celebrating and enjoying the day when you are feeling sad. In the build up to Christmas, you are constantly being told to have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Although a lot of these people are strangers and therefore do not know your personal circumstances and recent loss, it can still be painful to hear this time and time again.

Should I celebrate?

This is a question a lot of people ask themselves, especially at Christmas and New Year. If it is the first year since you lost someone special, you are probably more likely to ask this question. There is no right answer. Everyone will deal with these days in a completely different way. Some may want to continue celebrating the day in the same way they have always done. Christmas especially usually involves many traditions which vary from family to family. Some find they feel closer to their loved ones if these traditions continue to take place with things going on as usual as much as possible. For others, this is not possible. It can sometimes be too painful to recreate these traditions and choose to create new traditions instead. Some people decide to volunteer at Christmas instead to help others and to escape from the constant reminder of the loss. Alternatively, some people wish to not celebrate the first Christmas at all. These are all viable options and the decision is completely down to you.

Even the happiest of occasions will be tinged with the sense of loss you feel, but this doesn’t mean you cannot celebrate and enjoy these special events, especially as they are an opportunity to spend time with your other loved ones and time is precious.

Share your plans and feelings with family

When it comes to a special day, whatever the occasion, ensure you share your plans with your family. They will be concerned about how you are feeling, and it will be helpful for them to know how you want to celebrate the day, even if that’s by not celebrating it at all. At the end of the day you need to be honest with those around you as you will all benefit that way. Even if it is Christmas, a time usually spent with family, if the idea of a social gathering scares you or overwhelms you then tell your family. They will usually be understanding and glad you are telling them in advance. Alternatively, if you do not have plans to celebrate Christmas or any other special occasion then contact friends and family and ask if you can visit them. They may not have invited you over because they didn’t want to force plans on you.

Take care of yourself

During the grieving process you can sometimes neglect taking care of yourself. The same is true when you reach these milestone events and celebrations. As you are remembering loved ones, eating well may be low on your priority list. You may be skipping meals or even overindulging yourself, especially at Christmas. Just remember, it is best to have everything in moderation. You should still enjoy yourself, and food and drink at big social events is a large part of this, but always know your limits, especially with alcohol. It is common to turn to alcohol as it dulls down some emotions, but it is only a temporary fix and never solves any problems. Also, try and ensure you get enough fresh air and exercise (even if it is just a gentle walk). It will keep you active and can also aid sleep.

Take some time to be on your own

If you are at a social event celebrating a special occasion, allow yourself some alone time to reflect if this is what you want. It can sometimes be overwhelming if you are in a room full of people. You feel like you must make small talk and some people may not know you have recently lost someone. On the other hand, some people that do know about your recent loss may feel awkward to mention your loved one’s name.  Feel free to tell people that they shouldn’t be scared to mention their name and share their memories of them. This can sometimes provide comfort. Although talking is good, as well as spending time with others, it can get too much. If you feel this is happening, go and get some fresh air or go to the bathroom and gather your thoughts before re-entering the room. People will not mind and will understand.

You can change plans last minute

Weddings, Christmas and birthdays tend to have celebrations and events planned weeks if not months in advance. Although you have previously agreed to go to an event, do not feel bad if you want to decline closer to the time. No plans are not able to be cancelled. The people running the event may be disappointed that you have changed your mind, but it is better that you are honest with them. If you go against your wishes, it could leave yourself and others upset when you are not in the mood to socialise.

Tears are not a bad thing

Sometimes tears can be seen as a sign that you are not coping well with the death. Although this is sometimes the case, tears should never be seen as a negative thing. Some people naturally cry more than others and it can be healthy to cry, rather than bottling up the emotion.

Start new traditions

It can sometimes be extremely therapeutic to start a new tradition during these special occasions. Whether this is a visit to your loved one’s grave, watching their favourite film or sharing your favourite memories with loved ones, there are many options to choose from. The main thing is to ensure your new tradition reflects who your loved one was and is something they would be happy you are doing.

It is ok to treat it as just another day?

Sometimes, the build up to a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary can be really overwhelming and the day itself can end up being something your dread each year. It’s ok if you don’t want to celebrate that day and instead treat it as any other normal day. This may be the best way for you to cope. It may be that the date is the anniversary of your loved one’s death. This is sometimes a day people acknowledge but it doesn’t have to be. If this day brings too much sadness, then do not acknowledge it (and let your close friends and family know this is what you have chosen). Celebrating their birthday instead may be a good option. It gives you a chance to remember amazing memories without having a day associated to the time they were taken away from you. Again, each person is different, and some may not feel right If they do not acknowledge the day they died.

Practice your response to typical questions or comments

Especially at Christmas or New Year, you are constantly being told to be “merry” or “have a Happy New Year”. Try and think of some responses to this so that you are not shocked when you get asked it and end up saying something accidently hurtful. “Thank you, I’ll try” or “Thank you, you too” are neutral responses that are polite.

Schedule a time in the day to remember your loved one

It can be nice to reserve a certain time in the day to stop and think about your loved one. You could start a new tradition, raise a toast to them, and share your favourite memories of them. Having this dedicated time to remember them allows them to still be part of the day but stops your grief taking over the entire celebration of the day.

Celebrate at the end of the day

Congratulate yourself at the end of the day. These days are tough as although they are filled with happiness, they are also filled with sadness and they can be difficult days to get through. You need to acknowledge how well you have done with coping with it.

There are different ways of mourning and therefore there are different ways to cope with the special dates and occasions that will appear each year. Although these days will always be a struggle, a lot of people do find that the first year is the worst, especially the first Christmas without someone you love. The pain of loss will never go away but over time you will establish your own way of coping andcelebrating these days. It will just take time to discover how you deal with them. Also remember that some years will be better than others. You will feel different each year and may never establish a pattern, but again, although this is a daunting prospect, it is normal.

Our compassionate and professional team have years of experience creating funerals that are completely unique to the individual and respectful of the circumstances involved. For help and advice, please contact us on 0151 228 3900 or leave us a message through our contact us page by clicking here.