Special Occasions




Birthdays, Christmas, Anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other religious celebrations and special occasions can all be particularly difficult times after a loved one has died.

Making plans in advance and discussing with others who may also be anticipating an approaching event can make it easier to get through what can be a tough time.

Sometimes the anticipation of approaching events can be more difficult than the actual date or occasion itself…so plan well ahead.

It can also be helpful to remember that others around you may feel differently as occasions and events are approaching.

Allowing space and time for each person to mark occasions in their way can be important.

Read through these suggestions and think about what you need to do in preparation.

Not all of these ideas will be appropriate for you or your situation. 

You may decide that you do not want to do anything at these times.

It is not so important whether or not you do something,

but it can be important that you have made a decision.

It seems that certain times of the year, no matter how long it has been for someone, can open a window of memories. The time is bittersweet for me, I have very some happy ones that bless me as I choose to remember. At the same time, often my heart waters are whipped up and the flood gates open within my soul. If this happens to you too...Please give yourself the time to feel, to remember, wash and cleanse yourself with tears if you need to, rest and then step outside if you can and take some deep cleansing breaths to calm your heart and gain the strength to continue and move on. You will never forget the ones you love and miss but you will find a way to live each day, one moment at a time. It will be different because you are ~ but it does not have to be a bad experience.


Stay connected to your feelings

Give yourself time to express your emotions. Find out how you best express your feelings -- by doing or writing or sharing with another, meditating, or being active. Everyone has his or her own style.

Think about what will be helpful for yourself and your family in the present

Do not continue old traditions if they do not work for you. Especially the first year, it is often good to do something different. For example, one family decided to take a trip to celebrate the holidays in a different country. The following year they had a more traditional Christmas at home. Another person went to Florida and swam with the dolphins. She reported that the experience changed her life.  You may choose to do something to experience life in your loved ones memory as they enjoyed or celebrate life in your own way at that moment.  Do what works for you.

Do not feel guilty for how you feel

If you find that you are happy or enjoy some aspect of the holiday it is okay. If you are not feeling happy it is still okay.  Don't try to live up to others expectations of how you should feel. Sometimes family and friends will disapprove of the bereaved person’s behavior if he or she does not seem to have the emotions that the family expects. Sometimes we harbor our own unrealistic expectations for how we should be instead of accepting how we truly feel.

It is normal to have many mixed emotions during the bereavement process -- especially so on the holidays

Find ways of giving to others

When you are feeling sad and empty inside it can help to give and reach out to others in more need than yourself.  Some families go to soup kitchens on Thanksgiving or other holidays. Others create a memorial fund and raise money to help others.

Avoid overindulging in alcohol and food during the holidays


Eating and drinking too much are often ways of avoiding or masking underlying emotions.  Eating and drinking too much are risky during periods of bereavement in general.

Explore the traditions of your faith concerning mourning and remembering

Many holiday rituals specifically involve light. Try lighting a candle for the person who has died or even creating a candle lighting memorial part of the celebration.

Don't be afraid to ask for professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions, are finding yourself immobilized by your grief, or are having other adverse experiences or behaviors

The holidays present unique challenges for those who are grieving. By taking special care in planning for them and by being aware of your emotions, you will be able to survive them, and maybe find a new meaning in them for yourself and your family.

Approaching the first anniversary, or any anniversary of your loss

Don’t expect too much of yourself or other family members, it can be a difficult time.
Remember there is no right or wrong way of doing things

Get rid of all the "Shoulds"
Do what is most important for you and your friends and immediate family

Coping with ANNIVERSARY TIME/ Holiday Grief
(additional ideas below)

At holiday time, many people are dealing with loss and are often caught in a dilemma between the need to grieve and the pressure to get into the spirit of the season. Holidays or not, it is important for the bereaved to find ways to take care of themselves. The following guidelines may be helpful:

1. Plan ahead as to where and how you will spend your time during the holidays. Let yourself scale back on activities if you want to. Redefine your holiday expectations. This can be a transition year to begin new traditions and let others go.

2. Select a candle in your loved one's favorite color and scent. Place it in a special area of your home and light it at a significant time throughout the holidays, signifying the light of the love that lives on in your heart.

3. Give yourself permission to express your feelings. If you feel an urge to cry, let the tears flow. Tears are healing. Scientists have found that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers.

4. Shakespeare once said, “Give sorrow words…” Write an “un-sent letter” to your loved one. expressing what you are honestly feeling toward him or her at this moment. After you compose the letter, you may decide to place it in a book, album or drawer in your home, leave it at a memorial site, throw it away, or even burn it and let the ashes rise symbolically.

5. When you are especially missing your loved one, call family members or dear friends and share your feelings. If they knew him or her, consider asking them to share some memories of times they shared with your loved one.

6. If you live within driving distance of the cemetery, decorate the memorial site with a holiday theme. This could include flowers, garlands, ribbons, bows, evergreen-branches, packages, pinecones or a miniature Christmas tree or whatever the occasion is that is special to you. Decorating the site yourself can be helpful in remembering and celebrating your loved one's life during the holidays, and may free you to cherish the present holiday with your remaining family.

7. Play music that is comforting and meaningful to you.
Take a few moments to close your eyes and feel the music within the center of your being

Things to think about as you approach the birthday of the person who has died

It is possible that this will always be a significant day for you, but approaching the first birthday after the death an be daunting for some.

You might like to talk about the date either with other family members or friends. Remind those who may not know the date, so they may support you more at this time.

Hold a Gathering

You may not feel like a party, but ask a group of friends around who knew the person who died. Ask them all to bring something that reminds them of that person – it may be something physical or perhaps a story or poem.

Make a Birthday Card

Ask others to join in and create something that reflects what that person meant to each of you. Imagine what you want to tell that person right now and reflect this in the card.

You may like

·         visit the cemetery or a special place you shared together

·         hold a gathering of special people to celebrate the life of the person who died. Bring photos and mementos

·         light a candle for the day

·         play music which was special to the person who died.

Some more ideas…

·         attach a card or message to a helium balloon and release it

·         plant a garden or some special flowers or shrubs in a special place

·         make or buy a new frame for your favourite photograph

·         write a letter, a poem or a song

·         create a special CD of music or video

·         create a special meal, prepare and eat your loved one’s favourite meal

·         begin to make a memory box in which to keep things that remind you of the person—photos, shells, jewellery etc.

Whatever the plans that you make, it is important to let family and friends know that everything may have to be changed at the last minute. If you have chosen to be with others you may suddenly decide that you would like to be alone, or vice versa.

There is no right or wrong way to do it; it can be helpful to build in flexibility so that people do not take it personally and become offended.

It is also good to listen to yourself and your body. If you become tired, then rest. If you need to go home from an event, then that’s OK.

More things to consider when… 
    You approach your own birthday

The focus of your own birthday may have changed significantly since the person in your life died. You may have mixed emotions, a feeling of dread, not wishing for the day to happen.

Tell others what you would like to happen on this day

If you don’t want people to acknowledge the day, let them know. However, there are some things you might like to plan ahead and do.

You might like to go a favourite spot you shared with your person who died, either alone or with someone who will support you. You might like to buy yourself a gift similar to what the person who died may have given to you in the past.

Because it is all your choice you might just like to light a candle and play gentle music all day. It is more important that you have made some preparations and planned it, rather than what you actually do.


Things to think about as you approach Christmas and the holidays...

The Christmas tree:
will you have one or not? Discuss your thoughts with family members and friends if you wish. If you do decide to have a tree, perhaps you could decorate it in a way which remembers your loved on. You could place symbols or mementos on it.

Where will
you celebrate Christmas or the holiday?  Will it be the same place as usual or do you want to make it different this year? It might be a good opportunity to try something different; a picnic on the beach, a BBQ in the hills or a meal at a restaurant.

Christmas/holiday dinner:
Perhaps you could place a favourite flower, plant, or a candle or another object on the Christmas table. Make a toast to the person who has died.

Christmas cards:
If you don’t feel like writing cards an alternative might be to write one letter, have it copied and send it out. Also, it’s OK not to send cards if you decide not to.

This could be done differently this year. Work out what feels comfortable for you. You might still want to buy a gift for the person who has died – consider making a donation to their favourite charity.


Some of these days can be very difficult. In summary, a good approach is to listen to yourself, be flexible, accept what you need, and also the needs of others, and communicate as openly and straightforwardly as you can with those closest to you.   

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