Written by: Christy Roberts, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
When someone you love dies, special occasions like Christmas, New Year, birthdays, and many other days that were once joyful and celebrated are now a huge trigger for our grief.
A constant reminder that our loved one is no longer with us. Of how different our life now is, and that life continues to go on without them.
As a bereaved mother, Grief Educator, Coach, and the Global Self Directed Healing Practitioner Trainer, I know all too well what a huge problem this is because these once joyful days become events we withdraw from and often fear and dread. We can begin to worry about them weeks in advance.
The grief builds in your body, because you know it’s going to trigger your pain, your grief, your loss, and you already know how much that hurts.
… and how much we miss them.
Doing ‘the work’
The ‘grief work’ is about learning and using healthy strategies for integrating and coping with your loss today and in the future.
Processing and understanding your grief
Feeling your emotional pain, rather than disconnecting, avoiding, or suppressing it
Connect with yourself and others
Find ways to honor your loved one
Redefine the relationship you have with your loved one
And rebuilding your life after the loss
We often judge our grief, feeling like we’re not doing it right. If you feel like you should be coping better, or be further along in your grief, then you are judging yourself.
Please understand, that time does not heal our grief, it’s what we do with that time that matters the most. Grief takes time, so be kind to yourself.
It’s not a race, but if you do feel stuck and like it’s time you did something, or that you need some support to help you, then reach out to a professional who understands grief.
Make sure they are grief informed. You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist to fix a sore tooth, would you?
Tips for Christmas, Birthdays, and Special Occasions
Remember we are all unique in our grief, therefore different tips will work better for some than others. Choose from these what feels right for you.
1. You have free will
First of all, culturally, there’s usually an expectation that we show up on special occasions, contribute and be happy. Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
Please understand, you have free will, you might decide it’s too hard and you don’t want to participate, and that needs to be OK.
Some will find comfort in what is familiar. Others will find this incredibly difficult. If it’s too hard, you can cancel Christmas. It will still be there next year.
2. Remove expectations of how you will show up
It’s really helpful to try to remove any expectations of how you ‘think’ you should show up or how you will be on the day.
You may fear the day in advance, believing you will not cope. Worried about how triggered you’ll be, when in fact on the day, you may feel fine.
You may feel like you’ll be OK and then on the day, become suddenly overwhelmed by your grief.
The truth is you may spend the day, swinging between happy, angry, guilty, relieved, and sad. Just know, it’s all normal because there is no normal. There’s no right or wrong way because in grief our emotions swing and can be very unpredictable.
I often refer to emotions like waves, they peak, they trough, then they release into the sand.
3. Have an exit strategy
Grief is very heavy and tiring, it’s draining. Being around others can sometimes deplete your already low supply of energy. It’s useful before you arrive at an event, to plan how you can leave quickly if you need to.
For example, when you arrive you can state to the host – I can only stay a short while and if you stay longer, it’s a bonus. Let them be pleasantly surprised.
If you are struggling with energy, I would not recommend hosting events. Unless, of course, you can get some suitable support.
You do have to ask for what you need. People often genuinely want to help, but cannot read your mind, or know what you need. If you are receiving help make sure it’s helping you, not hindering you.
4. NO is a complete sentence.
When people invite you over, if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to explain yourself.
Simply say no thank you. If they don’t like the idea of you being alone that’s their business, not yours.
Say - I understand, no thank you.
They may say - it’s what your loved one would want. They’d want us to be together. Say – no thank you, not this time.
5. Give your grief some time and attention
In the weeks preceding my son’s birthday, I feel the energy in my body change. It gets heavier and I typically find I feel more emotional. I have learned to really listen to my body, it’s a skill that develops with practice. When it begins to build up, I notice and start to spend time more actively working on my grief. You can do this in many ways:
Writing letters that express how you feel
Self Directed Healing sessions
Basically, I find ways to feel what needs to be processed and felt.
Processing and working on your grief helps you to show up more balanced, calm and empowered.
Please note: gratitude and meditation – whilst beneficial in the moment, is not healing. It’s like putting a band-aid on your wound. The pain is not processing, therefore it remains buried and will typically keep resurfacing.
6. Have a plan – set yourself up for success
It’s beneficial to plan something to do on a special day in advance.
For example: if your spouse has died, on Valentine's Day, you could reach out to a friend to do something, so you’re not alone.
On Mother’s Day, I start talking with my mum and daughter weeks in advance. To plan something. Something that we are all happy and comfortable with. The first year we met up for lunch at a historical homestead, in a different environment. It kept me occupied during the day and it ended up being surprisingly quite pleasant.
I focus on surrounding myself with love. People I love and who love me. People whose company I enjoy. I also focus on doing things that I enjoy.
There have been a couple of occasions where I have not planned ahead, thinking I’ll be OK. I have arrived at the day and felt at loose ends and find it exacerbates my grief.
7. Find ways to accept and include your grief
There’s no way we’re ever forgetting them, so one of the keys here is to include your grief on special occasions. With no apologies.
If we show up and we’re emotional, or meltdown – let that be OK
If we want to leave – let that be OK
If we want to talk and honor them – be open to this
If we don’t want to talk, then don’t push it
Just be open to whatever feels right in the moment, however, you are showing up, and go with that.
We are not broken, we don’t need to be fixed, we are grieving. It is a normal and natural response to loss.
8. Find ways to honor them
Visit the gravesite or accident site
Look at and share photos, and put some out in frames
Donate to a cause in their honor
Say a prayer
Set an extra place on the table
Light a candle
Share stories and reminisce
Create new rituals that include them
Have an extra gift for them
9. Plan the meal
Grief is often heavy and tiring. You might decide that the traditional meal is too much, so have something frozen. It actually doesn’t matter, be kind and go easy on yourself.
You can cook some of their favorite things to honor them.
I have spaghetti bolognaise nights, and sausage sizzles in my son's honor because he really enjoyed these. Plus it’s an easy way to bring those who were close to him together.
10. Communicate with all members of the family
Grief in families can be complex because everyone grieves differently.
You might find some family members want to come together while others adamantly don’t.
Often you’ll hear yourself or someone else complaining about other family members. Please remember, everyone grieves differently and these differences can often trigger judgment, which just creates more friction.
Everyone is entitled to grieve in their own unique way. No one will grieve the same way you do, so it is not realistic to expect that.
Some want the Christmas tree up and for others, it’s a massive trigger.
Communication here is essential. It’s so important to explore ways to honor each person in their grief. Expressing what you need is empowering.
We need to listen
We need to discuss
We need to be open to finding a pathway that works for everyone.
Also remember to include the children – they are often the forgotten grievers.
11. You create the rules
If you need to create new rituals and traditions this is a good opportunity. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean it can’t change.
Create new traditions. That can be a wonderful way to honor your loved one and honor your grief.
12. Look after yourself
Go for walks, exercise, drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, write, massage, whatever works for you.
13. Reach out for external support
It can be so much easier to work with someone who is grief informed and can guide you through effective ways to heal and integrate your loss.
It’s also beneficial to talk to people who have experienced loss. Talking and having your pain witnessed is incredibly powerful.
At the end of the day, the reality is, we’re entitled to feel whatever we feel and do whatever we want to do. It’s our grief and ours alone. It’s our right to be, and to feel whatever we want, whenever we need.
And remember – love yourself enough not to judge your grief.
Be your own best friend, and be kind to yourself.
I know beyond a doubt that our loved ones, without exclusion, would want this for us.
I trust you’ve gained value from this article. I have more articles and resources on my website christyrobertscoaching.com.
Keep an eye out for our free Living with Grief MasterClasses. They are jam-packed with valuable education and designed for both grievers and those in support and leadership/therapy/healer roles. Check out our events here.
I have a number of videos about grief on our YouTube Channel – remember to subscribe & like.
I trust you’ve gained value from these tips and hope that this shines a bit of light onto your pathway, demonstrating that it is possible to have happiness in your life again and thrive after deep loss.
Much love to you all.
Christy Roberts – Creating Change
Christy Roberts, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Christy is the Global Self Directed Healing Practitioner Trainer, an award-winning Coach, and Grief Educator with over 20+ years of Human Resources and Organisational Development experience.
She helps people journey through the toughest of life’s challenges, like grief, trauma, anger, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, fear, overwhelm, stress, and burnout.
Christy is passionate about unlocking our human potential, transforming mindsets, and supporting people to get out of their own way and live their ultimate lives by achieving the success and results they desire.
She provides Coaching, Self Directed Healing, Workshops, and Educational Resources that positively impact people, leaders, and workplaces.
As Founder of Creating Change, she is driven to make a change in our society and culture, so that we are more authentically connected to ourselves and living with passion and purpose.