We all have “special” days in our lives, and after the loss of someone we love, they are often particularly difficult. Birthdays. Holidays. Anniversaries. The first day you met. The first time you knew you loved them. Their favorite day of the year. No matter who you’ve lost – parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, child, or friend – any day of the year could be special to you and the one you love.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a noted grief counselor, author, and educator, affirms that our grief journeys are as unique as we are. “In life, everyone grieves. But their grief journeys are never the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own special way. Be careful about comparing your experience with that of other people. Also, do not adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Just consider taking a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ approach. Doing so allows you to mourn at your own pace.”
When those special and significant days come, here are a few ideas for navigating through them:
1. Plan ahead
As a special day or milestone approaches, consider what you will need to get through the day. Think ahead and decide if you need to take the day off to rest and reflect. You may also wish to do something special or meaningful to honor your loved one’s memory. Or, you may want to go to a special place or gather with certain people on that day. A little planning ahead of time can make for a more peaceful and contemplative day.
2. Take time to remember
The hardest part about a day that is special to you is if no one else seems to remember. No matter what the particular day may be, if it’s significant to you and your lost loved one, do something to remember, to celebrate, to commemorate, and to honor it. Take flowers to the gravesite, look through old photos and videos, light a candle, or write a letter. All of these are simple ways to express your grief outwardly. The outward expression of grief will help bring peace and healing on a difficult day.
3. Give to meaningful causes
Giving back is one way you can pay it forward to others and carry on your loved one’s legacy. Though your loved one is gone, their legacy lives on through you. For example, if they greatly valued children, find a way to give back to local or international programs that help children. You may even sign up for a race or a walk that raises funds for a special cause. Focusing on the needs of others will also help you look outside your own pain and take a break from grief.
4. Reinvent the day
Another option is to reinvent the days that bring you pain. For example, on the anniversary of your loved one’s death, do something that would have delighted them. If they loved to fish, go spend a day at the lake and take time to remember and cherish. This same principle can be applied to any special day. Changing routines and focusing on what brings you joy and peace, even temporarily, can help you get through a hard day.
5. Enjoy quiet time
For many of us, we need time alone to process through our emotions, so quietness may be what you need on the “special” days. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you need to feel. If painful emotions come to the surface, find a healthy way to express those emotions. Remember, it’s okay if you need to cry. Grief journaling, creative expression, and spending time outdoors are all very effective ways to express your feelings.
6. Talk about your feelings
Your friends and family care. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to “bring them down” if you talk honestly about the sadness that you’re experiencing. If you need to get something off your chest, do it. Too often, our culture encourages us to stifle sad emotions and put on a happy face. But it’s healthy to express what we feel and confide in others. Let those who love you support you. If your friends and family are unable to give what you need at this time, join a support group or find a counselor.
7. Spend time with friends and family
While it is good to spend some time in solitude and reflection, it is also important to socialize with people who support you and care about you. Go out to dinner or prepare a meal together. Turn on a favorite film or tv show. Numerous studies have shown that laughter plays an important role in lowering stress, improving mood, strengthening our relationships, and contributing to our overall health. By taking time to laugh with people you love, you take a healing step forward.
Don’t Forget – It’s a Journey
Some of these suggestions may appeal to you while others don’t. That’s okay. Remember what Dr. Wolfelt said earlier? Our grief journeys are never the same. They look different for each of us, so some of these options will be right for you and others won’t. Simply choose what’s best for you and follow through.
The “special” days will always be special to you, but eventually, the pain they awaken won’t be so overwhelming. The grief will lessen in intensity, but we never truly get over our grief. We become reconciled to it. In other words, we find a new way to live because the old way is gone forever. It’s hard work, and it will take time, but eventually, you will find your “new normal.”
But for now, grieve. Cry. Remember. And look for ways to celebrate your lost loved one on those days that are special to you. Or find a way to turn painful days into positive, uplifting moments that help you honor and remember the one who died. May you find the peace and reconciliation you need.