As the culmination of the Holiday Season, New Year’s Day can symbolize many things. For some it can signify the hope of a fresh start. For others, this marking of the passage of time is especially poignant because, as one grieving parent said, “Now I have to say my daughter died last year.”
While Epiphany may not be a holiday on everyone’s radar, the word “Epiphany” can be provocative. Imagine having the epiphany that “My mother is really never coming back!”
MLK Weekend, and 3 day weekends in general, can be difficult. For those who rely on the structure of work to help them cope with their grief, the long weekend can feel. . . long. Traditions that were observed in years past, will no longer be the same.
Another new year, another marking of time going by. See New Year’s Day*
Annually we listen to the President deliver a State of the Union Address. As a bereaved husband, whose partner had died said, “What is the state of my union? My family is in fragments as we all grieve.”
Inaugurations happen every four years and can be a reminder that the world is changing. Thinking about how the person who died might have reacted, an adult daughter said, “My father would have been thrilled that an African American is president.”
Whether their loved one was a football fan or not, everyone has traditions around Superbowl Sunday. Superbowl parties, get togethers – all convivial environments, may now be overwhelming or may provide a needed reprieve from their grief.
While most of us are waiting to see if the Groundhog will see its shadow to determine an early spring, a Griever is apprehensive about the prospect of 6 more weeks of their “emotional” winter.
Roses, hearts, candles, advertisements showing happy, romantic couples . . . Valentine’s Day can be tough. It can be hard for someone in the throes of grief to be bombarded with these images, even if Valentine’s Day carried no significance in the past.
See MLK Weekend*
Many find the longer days and shorter nights a welcome relief. The increased sunlight lifts their spirits and they can be out and about more. Others miss the long, cozy, evenings, curled up in their pajamas, wanting to be hidden and alone with their sorrow, and find the extended days more draining than enjoyable .
St. Patrick’s Day is not commonly associated with grief. However, if the deceased was Irish, liked to go out for drinks, or maybe was named Patrick, a griever may find themselves unexpectedly triggered.
The Persian New Year and the Indian holiday, Holi, celebrate the Spring Equinox. This is a time of rebirth and new beginnings. The symbolism of transition can feel both healing and at the same time, be a reminder that this is not the kind of new beginning they hoped for or wanted.
Images of bunny rabbits, macaroons, family meals may not feel as joyous. Grievers may connect more to the themes of suffering than rejoicing.
“I wish the death of my sister was an April Fool’s Joke ” “My partner was diagnosed on April Fool’s Day – I thought he was playing a joke on me!”
Tax day is met with dread by most everyone. It may be a reminder of “My dad used to help me do my taxes” “This is the first time I’m listing myself as a Widow” or “I have one less dependent since my child died.”
Most people have traditions on Mother’s Day. They may be honoring a mother, wife, sister grandmother or a daughter. Without that special woman there, how do you celebrate? It can also be difficult for a surviving mother to spend the day without her partner, child, or parent. Who will plan the day for honoring her?
Memorial Day is the symbolic beginning of summer and a day for barbecues and get togethers with friends. Summer may not hold the same excitement now. Summer vacations, which may have been highly anticipated in years past, are greatly changed. This year, the word “Memorial” takes on a new significance.
“My mother would have been so proud to see me graduate with honors.” “I finally completed my degree after taking time off to caregive for my father.”
“This would have been my husband’s first Father’s Day.” “I can’t believe I won’t be able to spend another Father’s Day with my dad. . . ever.” “My wife always made Father’s Day so special for me.”
Grievers may not feel up to holiday barbecues and fireworks. Attending a convivial gathering where no one mentions the person who died can be hurtful and isolating. And, as one widower said, “I don’t want to celebrate my new found ‘independence’, I wanted to celebrate July 4th as I always have, with my wife.’”
Oban is Sanskrit for “hanging upside down,” implying great suffering from grief. Despite its name, this Japanese Buddhist holiday is a joyous time for honoring the departed spirits of one’s ancestors.
In August, people are taking end of summer trips before the kids return to school. Therapists are taking time off as most clients are out of town. Grievers may find their support system to be slightly diminished in number.
The symbolic end to the summer, children have gone back to school, the year will soon be coming to an end. For a parent grieving the death of a child, the beginning of the school year may bring up bittersweet memories. It can be a struggle watching life resume its natural rhythm when their life seems to be standing still.
September 11th is a day that is seared in to all our memories. The annual media attention to September 11th may be especially difficult. “It’s been over a decade and people are still talking about the widows of September 11th. My wife died 2 years ago, why is no one asking me about my grief anymore?”
At the Jewish New Year, people are remembering loved ones who have died. People light rememberance (yarhzeit) candles and attend traditional memorial (yizkor) services.
The Muslim holiday of Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, increased worship and devotion.
The signs and symbols of Halloween take on new meaning. Tombstones, skeletons, ghosts, and other decorations may no longer be amusing for family and friends after the death of a loved one.
The Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, celebrated in conjunction with the Catholic holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, invites people to pray for and remember their ancestors. Families may build private altars or bring their loved one’s favorite foods and beverages to the gravesite, as gifts to the deceased.
The weather is turning colder, leaves are changing color and dying. Some may find evenings to be the most difficult. With days getting shorter, these longer evenings can feel increasingly lonely, isolating and scary.
“My brother was a veteran. I still have the flag they gave me at his funeral.” “Why isn’t there a day to honor caregivers? I was in a war watching my mother battle multiple sclerosis.”
A griever might remember how much their loved one enjoyed politics and how they would have enjoyed watching the presidential debates or the votes come in on Election Day. “My wife always joked that her vote cancelled mine out; now my vote stands alone.”
Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Holiday Season can be overwhelming even many years following a death. During the first year, grievers might be so overwhelmed by shock and disbelief, they may not even be aware that the Holdiays are happening. In future Thanksgivings, they may experience mixed emotions, both longing for the person who died while savoring happy memories from the past.
The concept of a “Black” Friday may not necessarily evoke thoughts of Holiday shopping. “Black” can bring up a variety of negative thoughts i.e. black mourning clothes, dark or somber mood, a black hole in their heart, etc.
At this time of year, people are in the throes of the Holiday season. Whether they celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or not, most have traditions around the December holidays which will be different this year. The symbols and images of candles, presents and happy families coming together, may only serve as painful reminders to a griever of the relationship they’ve lost. It can also be a time of reconnecting to warm memories of holidays spent with loved ones in the past.
The calendar year has come to an end. It may be a bittersweet time as a griever wonders, “What will my grief look like in the year ahead?” It can be hard to imagine a future without their loved one. At the same time, the New Year holds promise for a fresh start and a year of meaningful memories to be created.
The Griever’s Calendar inspired by Jo-Ann Lautman, Founder of OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center.