Nothing can knock the wind out of our sails like the approach of a holiday or a milestone day.
Even after over 21 years my daughter’s birthday can bring tears. Mother’s Day is bittersweet. The year-end holidays can bring sadness. All of these occasions also bring immense joy and celebration too. I didn’t come to this place easily. It took attention to what I needed each year, along with the intention to listen to that guidance.
One of the things that make holidays so difficult are the associative memories that come with them.
Memories of Christmas tree shopping and decorating were so difficult for us that we did not put up a tree for over 15 years after the first 2 years. The first two years we tried to do things the way we always did, and the memories were too difficult. It brought all of us down, and we just wanted the holidays to be over. We kept expecting to see Leah come bounding around the corner with her exuberance, and she wasn’t there.
We started traveling during the holidays, visiting places we had never been before. A change of scenery helped to ease our tender hearts. We still missed her yet being in a place we hadn’t shared with her made space for us to breathe a little deeper. So often in those first years it felt like we were holding our breath.
Here are things that helped us, that may help you as well.
- Change your traditions. No matter what holidays you celebrate, ask yourself what traditions are too painful right now; what new traditions can you do that will still honor your loved one? Ask this question each year because your needs may change from year to year.
- As you anticipate milestone days, whether a birthday, or anniversaries of accidents and deaths, ask yourself what you need this year. Do you need to take time by yourself? Where? In nature, or at a special place to you and your loved one? Or do you need to be surrounded by friends and family. There is no right answer, only you know what you need from year to year, and from milestone to milestone.
- Make space for feelings to arise at each of these occasions. Even though you may have cultivated resources to meet your grief, the feelings at this time can be especially strong. Allowing time to be with those feelings can help them move through.
Holidays and milestone days remind us of the passage of time like nothing else does.
We may wonder about how our lives would have been different if our loved one was still with us physically. Those musings have threatened to take me to a place of no return, to a place of wallowing in my loss, without wanting to find a way out. Yet each time I have found myself there, scrupulous devotion to my practices: Samyama, gratitude, self-care, and creativity always bring me back to myself.
My grief journey has been about coming back to the self I didn’t even know I was missing. Everything I’ve gone through along the way is in service to that becoming.
What practices or rituals help you come back to yourself?