If the first year of bereavement is like a roller coaster, then it’s fair to say there are some hurdles that threaten to derail you along the way to the one-year milestone. These hurdles can come along in any shape or form – but often the most difficult days to get through are significant dates that you used to celebrate, but now you’d probably rather forget. Days like birthdays, wedding anniversaries, first days at school, Christmas...
Wondering around supermarket aisles full of Christmas decorations when you are grieving can be just about the most miserable experience. Likewise, it’s difficult to be confronted with Father’s Day cards or Mother’s Day cards if your child has just lost one of their parents. And the first wedding invitation you receive after your partner has died is also likely to throw you into a complete quandary...
Whenever you get through one of these “hurdles”, you deserve an enormous pat on the back. It’s important to acknowledge dates that are significant to you – from birthdays to wedding anniversaries – and to mark them in a way that’s right for you and that causes you the least distress. Tempting though it is, don’t bury your head in the sand. Prepare for these dates in advance so that you’re not taken by surprise – and plan to be around other people, if you think this will help.
Remind friends and family about birthdays and anniversaries so that they know to rally around you. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even something as simple as a card can help to reassure you that other people are thinking about you – and that they haven’t forgotten about your partner.
Getting through Christmas
There’s no getting round it. Your first Christmas on your own is likely to be one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face, and it’s best to make sure you have lots of friends or family on hand to help with cooking, shopping and entertaining. You’re not likely to feel much like celebrating yourself. And even in the midst of all the jollity, you will most likely feel wretched.
Here are five tips we've gathered from WAY members that might help you to get through your first Christmas:
- Do something different – go away or visit a different relative, or perhaps friends. By changing your routine you won’t have the same memory cues.
- If you have younger children make sure someone takes them out to buy you a gift.
- Don’t push yourself beyond what you feel able to do. Bereavement is exhausting so remember to get enough sleep and don’t feel you have to do everything you used to. You could email a Christmas message to friends instead of writing cards. They will understand!
- Use the Christmas tree as a place to hang special mementoes, or perhaps photos or letters. You could also have a candle in a corner of a room to burn throughout Christmas, perhaps beside a special photo.
- Let children buy a present for the Mum or Dad they have lost, if they want to, or write cards. You could send letters up the chimney when you’re doing letters to Santa.
- Buy yourself a gift from your partner – he or she would have wanted you to have something and you deserve it...
Going along to other people’s weddings is especially difficult after your spouse or partner has died – and it’s probably a good idea to avoid weddings if at all possible during the first year of bereavement. Even if you are overjoyed at the couple’s happiness, it will be hard to share in their joy when every step of the ceremony can remind you of what you have lost. And trying to put a brave face on things will likely make you feel more lonely than ever. Especially after a few glasses of wine...
If a wedding invitation comes along that you really can’t decline, it’s a good idea to make sure there’s somebody else going who you can spend the day with – someone who can deflect any awkward questions or comments from other wedding guests. And if in doubt, wear sunglasses at all times...
Your own wedding anniversary is also likely to be an equally difficult hurdle to get through. So do make sure that friends and family are aware of the date – and ask for support, if you think you’ll need it. Give yourself some time for quiet reflection. And take some time out to visit somewhere special to you and your partner, if you can. Or take flowers along to their grave.
It’s a good idea to mark your partner’s birthday in some way too – perhaps by baking a cake or buying a small gift that will remind you of happier times. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture – just a small acknowledgement that your partner is still very much alive in your memory.
On your own birthday, why not buy yourself a small treat, just so that you have something nice to open on the day? And gently remind your friends or family that you might need some extra attention too. You probably won’t feel like throwing a big party, but celebrating your special day with a few close friends might be just the tonic you need.
The first anniversary of your partner’s death will no doubt be one of the biggest hurdles you will have to face. It’s likely to bring memories of your partner’s death back into sharp relief. You will almost certainly feel a deep sadness. And you may want to mark the date in some significant way. But you can also see the first anniversary as an enormous milestone on your road to recovery – you have survived the first year without your partner, and now things will slowly, imperceptibly start to get better. Your second Christmas on your own will not feel quite so bad as the first, because you have already done one before. And the hurdles you face along the way will seem smaller every time you face them.
You will start to get used to this “new kind of normal” – you will start to build a new life without your partner. It is a slow and painful journey – and at times it may not feel like the life you chose to lead – but there is life after death. And WAY members will be there with you every step of the way to help you on that long journey...