Is It Normal To Grieve This Way? Part II -Mourning the Firsts
©2014. Liisa Gavlick, M.A. All Rights Reserved
After the death of a loved one, the year after their passing holds many “firsts.” New waves of grief may engulf you as the calendar announces their birthday, anniversary, your faith’s religious holidays, the date of their passing, and other important events you shared.
Experiencing these firsts and the emotions that are brought to the surface can be an added challenge even if you are managing your grief and actively mourning your loss. Additionally, the anticipation of previously shared special days may heighten current emotions, cause anticipatory anxiety, or trigger/deepen depression.
Special days where the family gathers to celebrate can be a particularly stressful time under normal circumstances. Mourning the loss of a loved may compound them. It is helpful to have a plan in place if you will be attending family gatherings and socializing with friends not only during the holidays but other times as well. It is also helpful if you remember to lower the number of social commitments you participate in and allow yourself to say no to family expectations if you are not up to it.
A few questions to ask yourself to determine your limits are: What do you need to do to take care of yourself? Do you need quiet time each day? Do you need to journal your thoughts and feelings? Are you eating enough nourishing food? Do you need to exercise or get outside in the fresh air? Do you need to see or call on friends and family more frequently for added support? Do you become overwhelmed in larger groups?
The following suggestion are intended to help you navigate social functions and to remind you it’s okay to lower your expectations, not push yourself, and set realistic goals as you continue to mourn the loss of your loved one.
-Limit how long you socialize-
If you plan to attend a function in someone else’s home let them know you may only stay a short time. This allows you to socialize as long as you are able. If you become overwhelmed, tired, or emotions begin to surface you can let your host/hostess know you need to leave. This honors your limitations and also avoids any misunderstandings or hurt feelings on their part.
-Let someone else host-
If you are normally the one who hosts the family gatherings, inform your family you are unable to do it this year. Let another family member host in their home. This also allows you to take a break, rest in another room, or go home if you become exhausted and overwhelmed. This honors your available physical and emotional energy and is a form of self-care. It also gives other family members an opportunity to host and may begin a new tradition.
-The kitchen is closed-
If you typically cook for the family gathering or make traditional foods, cookies, candies, etc and you are not up to it this year—let them know. If you want to host the gathering but are not up to cooking suggest a pot-luck or eating at a restaurant. Another helpful alternative is to check online to see if your local grocery store offers pre-cooked meals. Honor your limits. By reducing your responsibilities it also allows others another way to demonstrate their love for you and offers you an additional avenue of support.
-Remembering your loved ones-
How do you want to remember your loved ones during family gatherings? Some keep an empty place setting for their loved one at the dining table. Others have photographs in a prominent place. Share a photo album and tell stories associated with the pictures. Start a, “Remember when…” chain, go around the room and have each individual remember not only the good times, but the things that made your loved one unique, times they woke up with wild bed head hair, or sang off key at the top of their lungs. Do you have a joke or funny story to share you know your loved one would have appreciated?
There are so many ways to remember your loved one, discuss ideas with family members and have it become a new family ritual during the holidays. This is also one way to remain connected to your loved one in memory.
-Give yourself permission-
Give in and allow your tears to flow. Give yourself permission to mourn, to feel the sadness, the anger, the bewilderment, whatever needs to be acknowledged and felt.
Give yourself permission to remember and share your memories of your loved one. Allow yourself to lower your expectations, to honor your limits, to set boundaries on what you realistically can do. They may change in the future, but right now, honor your limits.
What has been hard to do as you have mourned your loss? Give yourself permission to ask for help in those areas.
Continue to seek spiritual support if it is helping you understand, find meaning, cope with, and mourn your loss even if family members or friends don’t agree or understand.
Allow yourself to move toward your grief which enables healing. We live in a society that may not be comfortable with those who are grieving. Continue to take the time you need to grieve, no matter how long it has been; this is how you move through your grief. Remember, the only way out—is through.
-Seek professional support.-
If anxiety has paralyzed you, if you feel stuck, if you are sinking further into depression, feel overwhelmed, and are unable to talk with friends or family it may be time to seek professional support from a therapist who specializes in grief and loss, such as myself.
Special shared days, anniversaries, birthdays, and your faith’s religious holidays can be a particularly stressful and emotional time as you grieve your loss. May your fond memories and the support and kindness of friends and family soften the pain. May you continue to be gentle with yourself as you navigate through your grief and continue to mourn your loss during the year of firsts and beyond.