How to handle terrible grief during 'happy' special occasions

Will you be missing someone special this Christmas?

Grief is difficult enough as it is, but holidays and special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and big family events can be particularly painful.

My husband Sid died just days before Thanksgiving. His birthday was a few weeks later, followed by Christmas, and shortly thereafter our wedding anniversary. So those first few months were very difficult for me.

Of course, there is no ‘right way’ to handle the more intense grief most people endure on significant dates or during memorable seasons. But I discovered a few things that did help.

For me I found being busy and surrounding myself with supportive and uplifting friends and family members helpful. On the other hand, I found it difficult to get through things like anniversaries and holidays around people that would tend to remind me that I was alone and ‘how sad’ that was.

I remember the first Christmas season after Sid died my neighbour insisted that I go shopping with her. The last thing I wanted to do was get out and face that. But it actually helped me.

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I was somewhat of a zombie I’m sure, but I do recall feeling a bit better with her. Going shopping with my neighbour forced me to deal with people like sales clerks that had no idea I had lost my husband. Sometimes masking the pain with a fake smile actually does lift your spirits just a tiny bit.

It was a baby step but at least it was a step forward. Even a feeble attempt at dealing with the world again while still in the throes of deep grief was encouraging for me.

Another thing I discovered is that on those special dates it was positive for me to be around children. Kids remind us that there is hope for the future.

Their sweet ways of comforting you, sometimes when they don’t even know they are doing that, can be healing. I remember how much more relaxed I felt holding my little niece in my arms.

My cats were a great joy to me when I had to struggle with particularly hard times. Their mere presence was soothing. Also the fact that I had to get up every day and make sure they were cared for helped me focus on something other than me and my sadness.

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Each journey through grief is very individual and what works for one person may not work for another. But to me it was important to try perhaps a bit harder to make it down that dark road during times that used to be happy and joyful.

Dealing with grief on holidays and special occasions is particularly challenging. For me it just meant that as I stumbled along I had to remember that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I will never ‘be over’ my husband’s death and holidays are still more difficult. Those days will never be the same but focusing on the joy was vital for me.

My grief counsellor wisely told me that the best way to honour my husband was to go on and try to live as happy and productive life as I could without him.

I learned that cherishing wonderful memories was probably the most important thing I did on special days and during significant seasons. I am still grateful that I can draw on those memories.

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It can be bittersweet but the way I look at it, I was lucky enough to be able to share those special times with my husband. So when his birthday rolls around or Christmas season approaches I stop and remember the good times we had and know that he is just a smile away.

Do you do something special during these occasions, as a way to remember those who are gone?