Coping with the loss of a loved one is never straightforward or easy, and one particular challenge is knowing how to cope with our memories of the person who has passed. Memories, mementos, and anniversaries can, at times, be lovely reminders of the person we’ve lost; but at other times, dealing with them can be difficult reminders of our grief, triggering feelings like depression, anger, or even emotional numbness.
If you’re looking for support with these reminders, we hope that the advice below may provide you with empathy, knowledge, and/or comfort.
Plan Ahead for “Big Days”
Whether it’s your loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of their death, or the first Christmas spent without them at the dinner table, getting through emotionally-charged times can be daunting. While there’s no way to banish difficult feelings entirely, Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year recommends planning out how you’d like to spend particularly difficult days in advance. If you anticipate being especially susceptible to stress, you might take the day off of work or schedule a babysitter for your kids. If you want to avoid being alone, you can plan to meet with loved ones or attend a support group. Anticipating your needs can help you support yourself in advance of these difficult days.
Likewise, you might consider giving your loved ones a heads-up when a difficult day is approaching. This can help them to think of ways to support you in advance, and to understand understand why your mood may be a little different than usual. If they’ve experienced a major loss, they might even have ideas for how you can make the day easier on yourself. Community can be an incredible resource when getting through a loss.
Be Compassionate with Yourself
Significant holidays or anniversaries aren’t the only times when we’re vulnerable; sometimes, all it takes is a familiar song or a bad day at work to activate our grief. You might find yourself walking down the street and noticing the local cafe you and your loved one used to go to every weekend, or stumbling across an old photo while you’re cleaning the house. Even when we feel like we’re all “grieved out,” the effects of loss can take us by surprise.
Feeling these grief “aftershocks” is perfectly normal, and there’s no need to suppress them just because you feel like “you should be over it” by now or “you have other things to do.” In fact, suppressing your grief can work against you in the long run, trapping your negative feelings below the surface where they’ll lie latent. If you need to cry over your loved one’s death, laugh at a funny joke you used to share, or spend some time reflecting on your relationship, that’s absolutely normal. Be compassionate with your needs as they arise. They are not signs of weakness, but rather completely understandable aftereffects of loss.
Create Something Beautiful
Some people find grace and healing by taking their grief and channeling it into something beautiful (if and when they feel ready). The Mayo Clinic suggests making a donation to a charitable organization that held special meaning for your loved one, or planting a tree and creating new life in their name. Little gestures like these serve as new, positive reminders of your loved one’s presence, and show how their existence can continue to have beneficial and loving effects on the world even after they’re physically gone.
Those daunting dates we mentioned above, like anniversaries or birthdays, can also be turned into opportunities to come together with loved ones. Maybe you’ll continue to honor your loved one on their birthday by inviting their friends and family to engage in an activity or support a charity that they loved. Maybe you’ll take time to rewatch an old movie that made the two of you laugh, or to bake a recipe they taught you. Anniversaries can be beautiful opportunities to recognize the small gifts that they brought into our lives, gifts that don’t have to vanish just because of a physical loss.
You don’t have to get through grief alone. In addition to seeking support from your loved ones, you can also find dozens of groups, both in-person and online, dedicated to coping with different types of loss (many have been compiled in the “You’re Not Alone” section of the Resilient Brain Project). Further, you may choose to work with a therapist trained in grief and loss to process your nuanced feelings. If you have any questions about finding the right clinician for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loss feels like an ending, but sometimes it is just the beginning of our journey taking up the mantle and passing on the lessons of the people we’ve loved. We are here to support you the whole way through.
Tousley, Martha. Finding Your Way Through Grief: A Guide for the First Year. United States of America: Hospice of the Valley,1999.
Cordilia James is a sophomore at American University studying Journalism and Creative Writing. She is the Style Editor for the university’s student newspaper “The Eagle,” often reporting on local events and culture. When she’s not catching up on the news or journaling, you can find her exploring D.C., streaming comedy series, and daydreaming of Waffle House.