Holidays, Parties, Weddings, and Baby Showers. They are celebrations of joy, right? They definitely are, but for some, they can also be painful reminders of what (or who) is missing from our lives.
For those who have experienced a loss, the first year is a year full of “firsts” without our deceased loved one. There’s our first birthday, their first birthday, first Mother and/or Father’s Day, first Christmas…you get the idea. It’s difficult to carry on with the world around us during those seasons when we feel that we are drowning in our own grief. Those first holidays and celebrations are painful reminders to what we already know – that that loved one will never again celebrate with us. Even after the first year of a significant loss, there are still certain times of year when missing our loved one hurts a little more, no matter how long we’ve been without them.
I’ve also worked with those who choose not to celebrate certain holidays because they’ve experienced a history of pain surrounding that day. For example, if a person who’s parent was abusive, or if their history includes trauma surrounding a holiday that honors a parent, such as Mother and/or Father’s Day, the celebrations of those days can not only trigger painful memories from their past but also create pain around the idea of what “could have been” if the relationship had been healthier.
Sometimes activities which emphasize love and coupledom can be especially tough for those without a partner. Maybe someone has had a recent breakup but chooses to support their good friend who is celebrating an engagement or even by attending their marriage ceremony. Holidays such as Valentine’s Day or Sweetest Day can bring up sour feelings when a person is not in a committed relationship. Perhaps it’s even a double-whammy; perhaps someone’s significant other has recently passed away.
And for those who are experiencing infertility or the loss of a pregnancy or child, so much around us stings. These are subjects that our culture unfortunately doesn’t talk much about, but they are subjects of such pain and sensitivity. Even the most innocent questions of “Do you have any kids?” or “How many children do you have?” can hurt so badly. With those questions come such painful reminders of what our family does not include now.
It is during these times of pain that I encourage you to find healthy ways to cope with these heavy emotions. You are not your feelings. Ride the waves of emotion, for they are temporary. The season/holiday/celebration is also temporary.
- Go to your support network – they get you and understand your pain. Your people will support you, you just have to let them.
- If there are people that don’t support you or may even minimize your experience or emotions, limit your contact with them.
- Get outside. Enjoy the outdoors.
- Find a new hobby or interest.
- Limit negative coping mechanisms like high risk behaviors or use of substances.
- Go to therapy.
- Consider trying other stress-reducing practices such as acupuncture, yoga, or meditation.
- Do something kind for yourself – get a latte, schedule a massage, stroll through the park, take a break
While attending difficult events, take breaks when you need it. Have a plan in place by having an exit strategy in case you’re flooded with emotion. Give a supportive person a heads-up by creating a signal or code-word if you need a break or support in private. And sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do is just sit this event out. It’s ok to give yourself permission to do this. This season of pain you’re experiencing won’t last forever, but while you’re going through it, please do take care of yourself and ask for help when you need it.
And for those who are not currently experiencing a season of pain, please remember to be sensitive to those who are. Don’t take it personally if someone seems to be “off” at your personal celebration or if they walk away to take a break. If you’ve committed yourself to a relationship with a significant other, remember to include your single friends. Parents out there, your friends who don’t have children may miss you. Try reaching out to reconnect if you’ve gotten busy and it’s been a while. Consider refraining from questions such as “Do you have children?” You could try a more neutral ice-breaking conversation starter, such as “Where are you from,” or “Who does your family include?” Most importantly, be there. Being there doesn’t necessarily mean constantly asking them about (insert painful experience) all the time. It could be as simple as a text saying “I’m thinking of you,” squeezing their shoulder when it looks like they’re having a hard time, acknowledging their loss verbally or through a card or gift, and especially listening if your friend is talking about their pain.