While there are certain recognised stages of grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one; everyone is different. There are lots of resources online for bereavement support, which some of us may reach for soon after losing a loved one. However, we can of course experience feelings of loss many months down the line – and for years to come. Grief never really leaves us, but we find ways of accepting and coping.
Feelings of grief can be triggered by events and anniversaries, such as Christmas, birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but also by things we might not so readily expect – a piece of music being played, a TV programme or even a particular type of food. We can see anniversaries and events coming, which means we can prepare ourselves for how we might feel. The smaller triggers tend to come over us when we least suspect it.
Triggers for grief
Last month the country celebrated Father’s Day. It’s events like this that can cause both dread and pain for those who have lost a loved one. For weeks before they might avoid card shops, switch off adverts on TV and spam the ill-timed marketing emails. These are all things that can help them cope.
There are also plenty of positive actions we can take in this situation. You might like to:
- Light a candle in memory of your loved one
- Visit their grave or memorial place and lay some flowers
- Spend the day going through old photos or videos and sharing memories with other members of your family
- Continue to write them a card telling them how you’re feeling
- Do something for the day that takes our mind off of it entirely
Other days like this are, of course, Mother’s Day and Christmas. At Christmas time you might find yourself thinking about what presents he/she would like, picturing where they would sit around the table, or what special role they’d have on the day and who is doing that now.
Birthdays and wedding anniversaries aren’t as commercialised, but friends and family may find it difficult to know how to react around you or how best to help, which can also trigger different emotions.
And then of course, there is the anniversary of their death to cope with. Here you might find yourself reflecting on what happened, how and why.
Reactions to reawakened grief
The reactions we can feel on anniversaries can feel very similar to when we first lose our loved one – whether that was months or years ago. They include;
- Trouble sleeping
Let’s take guilt as an example. Coco Chanel once said: “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death”.
Guilt is something that can be suppressed around the time of a loved one’s death, as it can be a very painful emotion. Later down the line, anniversaries can throw up feelings of guilt about things that were said, guilt that life’s events are continuing without the deceased, or guilt that the bereaved haven’t thought about the deceased for a while.
It’s important to talk to someone about guilt. Talking really helps us to address our feelings and get them out in the open so that we can start to heal.
Gradually, these anniversaries and events can become happier times showered in wonderful memories. Here are five ways to cope with your grief around these times and start to turn them into something more positive.
- Accept how you feel: It’s normal for anniversaries to throw up lots of old emotions. Accepting this and knowing your triggers can help you to stay in control, lessening any anxiety and stress, and enable you to make sense of them and let them help with the healing process.
- Plan something: If you’ve got a birthday anniversary coming up, for example, why not organise something nice to do with friends or family so you won’t feel alone?
- Create a memory: You could mark an anniversary by donating to charity or planting a new rose in your garden. It can help to do something physical to mark the occasion – perhaps something that you can repeat each year?
- Keep talking: Despite things getting much better in recent years, we know death and grief are sometimes still thought of as taboo subjects, which is why it’s even more important to draw upon your support network. Keep talking and open up about how you’re feeling at regular intervals. Don’t let things get bottled up from one anniversary to the next.
- Feel your emotions: As we said earlier, it’s normal and natural to feel a range of different emotions at different times. Don’t feel guilty for laughing and joking, and don’t feel as if you shouldn’t have a good cry. Feel your emotions and let yourself heal.
Our Charity of the Year, Cruse Bereavement Care, has lots of information to help with all the various stages of grief. Visit: https://www.cruse.org.uk/