Special days in the life you shared with your loved one evoke painful memories, especially during the first year after the loss. Some sixth sense seems to alert you to their approach even before the calendar identifies them. These times are apt to intensify the sadness that pervades you. Birthdays, your wedding anniversary or other occasions that call for a family celebration may seem, for the moment at least, too difficult to continue to observe as you did in the past. While some survivors can find comfort in maintaining the rituals associated with these days, others feel that they need to find alternatives which do not evoke such a wealth of painful memories. Whether to be with others or to be alone on such days, whether to continue to celebrate as before or to try something new is for each survivor to decide on the basis of just what he or she can tolerate. But you will need to make your wishes known to those around you perhaps with an explanation of just how much your choice means to you right now. Bereaved parents need to take each other’s feelings into account as well as those of surviving siblings. In any case, one feels a need to acknowledge these special days in some way. Friends and even other family members too often remain silent as though the day might pass unnoticed if they said nothing, little realizing this makes the day even harder for you to live through. Depending on your own way of meeting these tests of one’s inner resources, a day spent alone in quiet contemplation can be as valuable for one as a day spent with others sharing memories and celebrating more openly can be for another.
Also scattered throughout the year innumerable holidays and religious festivals call forth nostalgic memories of family gatherings. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah especially prompt an exaggerated amount of advance publicity, with advice and suggestions all apparently designed to remind survivors of their loss. Traditional days of togetherness and the expectations placed upon us to be “happy” make an absence more deeply felt than ever. Some bereaved persons gain strength from the religious messages of these days and from the loving presence of other family and friends. If, however, you are not yet ready to participate in these events in your customary way, do not be afraid to say so and to suggest other arrangements that are more acceptable to you at this time. Probably nothing will seem “right” this first year, but you deserve to be allowed to make choices that best fill your needs.
Survivors frequently report that the anticipation of these days is much worse and produces more anxiety than the actual day itself. With each one of these occasions, you will probably breathe a sigh of relief when it is behind you. Each one is a test, of sorts, and each one is also proof that you can survive - that there is hope.