Something that everyone faces after losing a loved one is the pain of special days without them. Holidays, anniversaries, milestones all come with regularity regardless of whether or not we feel like celebrating them. Often the dread of how we will handle these days is worse than the days themselves. We wonder how we can celebrate anything ever again.
In the last 2 months my husband’s birthday and my own, our 10th wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving and Christmas, have all come and gone. I have learned a few things from these experiences that will hopefully help you if you aren’t sure of how to celebrate special days without someone you love.
Plan how to celebrate special days ahead of time
Rather than avoiding them, think about what an upcoming day will look like. What will you miss the most about not having your loved one with you? Perhaps the hardest one for me was our wedding anniversary. SO much was attached to it. I could hardly call it our 10th since we didn’t make it that far. That in itself was painful. It also coincided with the day we learned that he had cancer. So there were mixed feelings because of that.
The thing that made it the hardest, though, was that he always made it so special. My husband went all out to plan special getaways for our anniversary. He loved to surprise me with romantic plans that might include a boat ride, a trolley tour of a historic town, a candlelit dinner and a stay at a bed and breakfast. For our 10th anniversary, we were supposed to go on a cruise.
About a week before our anniversary, I went to a hermitage where we would each go (separately) annually to spend time with God in the woods. While I was there, I felt closer to Dan than I had since he died. It was an unexpected feeling, but it did make sense. It gave me such comfort. I decided after that to make it a new tradition.
Be intentional about special days
During our Thanksgiving, my husband’s absence was felt by all. So, when Christmas was approaching, we talked about a way to make him a part of our Christmas Eve celebration. I brought a candle with his picture on the holder and we lit it. Prior to opening our gifts, we all sat around and told stories about him. It was fun to hear memories from different family members. It was very special, indeed. This is something that requires intentional thought and effort. It’s also important for people to be given permission not to participate if they aren’t comfortable with it. Different people grieve in different ways, so what helps one person might be painful for another.
Don’t expect things to be the same
Traditions change with the passing of time and with the loss of those we love. Recognize that things will be different. Different doesn’t have to mean “bad.” And if you try to start a new tradition and it’s a bust, you can always try something different next year (or even the next day).
You don’t have to celebrate
This year, for my birthday I didn’t want to celebrate. It bothered me that I was getting older when my husband never would. It may seem like a strange thing to get hung up on, but we are allowed to have our hang-ups as we grieve. So I just didn’t make a big deal of it. I did have a lovely lunch with 2 of my sisters-in-law and for me, that was the best way to mark the day.
It’s okay to celebrate!
Surely your loved one would want you to continue living. Part of living is celebrating special days. Don’t feel guilty about this.
What Are YOUR Thoughts?
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker