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Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, regardless of the circumstances or time of year. But birthdays, Christmas and other special days can magnify your sense of loss and mourning.
Every year brings days of festivities and celebration. While these days are a great opportunity to come together, they also surface a lot of memories shared with family and friends.
If a loved one has recently passed away, these days can trigger emotions and grief to come flooding back. Simply hearing ads promoting holidays on the radio, walking through the shops or chatting with a neighbour can remind you of your loss.
The death anniversary is often one of the most challenging days, particularly in the early years. But it can be something as simple as the changing of the seasons triggering smells, colours and sights remind you of your loved one. There are also key holidays such as Easter, Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas, as well as birthdays, anniversaries and other events to remember.
Be prepared for difficult days, anticipate them and prepare for them. It’s important to find the right person who is sensitive to the events triggering your grief, ensuring you have someone to open up to. There is nothing more comforting than being able to share and reminisce with someone, even cry with someone Sometimes words don't need to be said. Maybe a silent hug would be better.
When dealing with grief, here are some suggestions for what you can do to make it just that much easier on yourself.
Only do what feels right
It's up to you to decide which activities, traditions or events you can handle. Don't feel obligated to participate in anything that doesn't feel doable. Grieving takes time.
Accept your feelings
Everyone takes his or her own path in grief and mourning. Some may try to avoid sad feelings, others will be bathed in tears.
Some feel bad that they aren't up for enjoying a holiday, others feel guilt because they are feeling joy.
However you feel, accept it. And accept the inevitable ups and downs. You may feel peaceful one moment and gut-wrenchingly sad the next.
Call on family and friends
Talk with loved ones about your emotions. Be honest about how you'd like to do things this year – if you want to talk about those who have passed, then do so.
Take a friend to events for support and create an escape plan together in case you need to bow out quickly.
Read books about getting through the holidays after loss and seek out support groups and professional support.
Start new traditions
Starting new traditions with friends and family can help you through your grief by giving you something positive to focus on and not resurfacing painful memories.
Focus on the kids
Many holidays place special attention on children, and it often helps to focus on their needs. Realise that your choices around getting through the holidays may affect the children in your family.
If you withdraw, they may not understand why you don't want to join family festivities.
Perhaps you can participate in the family rituals or gatherings that are most important to the kids, and excuse yourself when you reach your limit.
It's amazing how in times of grief, sometimes the biggest comfort is to give to others. Gift-giving can be a tremendous aid in overpowering the grief because it gives you a sense of emotional relief.
When you provide someone with a gift they want or need, their happy feelings will inadvertently transfer over to you, helping you both celebrate the holidays together.
Even though it can be difficult to think of gift buying and giving following the death of a loved one, it can also be an effective distraction from the negative emotions surrounding you.
Acknowledge those who have passed on
When we are grieving a loss of someone very close to us, it can be helpful to participate in a related holiday ritual in his or her memory. For example, light a candle for them, talk about them, buy children’s toys or books to donate in their name, plant a tree or place an item of theirs among your Christmas decorations.
Our funeral directors have pooled their knowledge to answer some common questions about grief.
Grief support services
There are many services who can support you during this time.
How to help after a death
Here are some ideas to help friends and family experiencing grief.
Days to remember
If a loved one has recently passed away, these days can trigger emotions and grief.