Surviving the Horrors of Grief During Halloween and Other Holidays

I learned early on, when my 22nd birthday arrived just six weeks after mom's funeral, that the "firsts" were always going to be rough. Days that had otherwise been cause for celebration, days when mom and I might have shopped and prepared and planned together to make the event "special" for those present. The emptiness around these festivals always re-ignited my grief; the sense of loneliness; isolation; realization that life would never be the same, forcing me to compare my life against others' who still had their mom or someone who was going to share the event and shower them with trips, cards, presents, cuddles, kisses and special time.
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Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and Halloween no longer held the same appeal. I found it hard to join in with the festive spirit, I struggled to feel excited, or enthused, in fact, I struggled to feel anything other than completely numb or heart-wrenching debilitating pain. Holidays were off limits.

Rather than happy celebrations they had become horrific reminders of a life I once had, where my loving mother inspired and created spectacular feasts, a group of fun, loving guests, beautiful gifts, or surprises, always with a touch of magic.
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The enjoyment and happiness of others upset me, annoyed me even, and occasionally made me angry: "How could they be so insensitive, did not they realize what I was going through?" No they did not.

It is extremely hard for those who are yet to encounter a loss to truly appreciate just how devastating and traumatic it is to lose a loved one. They can not see into your head or your heart to understand the kinds of suffering you experience in your grief.
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Oftentimes we "pretend" we are okay on these days, that we are just as excited as everyone else, when really we are saddened by the whole affair. So what can we do when holidays like Halloween are just around the corner, how can we prepare, both ourselves and those around us for the symptoms of grief and loss that will inevitably effect us?

  1. Expect the old demons to surface, even if it's been years since the loss of your loved one.
  2. Find a really close friend to spend the night with, someone who understands you so well that you will not have to say, that that's what you need.
  3. Do not overstretch yourself and watch out for patterns you might have around "stuffing" your feelings, like over eating, over working, consumption of drugs and alcohol, you will feel worse if you let these impulses get the better of you.
  4. Do not let the cheer get you down. Trust that one day you too will feel festive again, and understand that for now you are healing and fragile, your enthusiasm will always return.
  5. Create your own ritual to remember your loved one and how you shared this event together; light a candle, write a note and send it heavenwards attached to a helium balloon, get out the pictures from years past and reminisce, express how much you miss them to your friends and family.
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  7. Give yourself space for your grief. The "firsts" are always difficult and even if you are well on the road to recovery they can still bring you down. Take an afternoon off work, sleep in longer, stay home or go out if you want, but try not to make plans you'll have to cancel if you feel bad.
  8. Do something extra kind for yourself. Book a steam, spa, pedicure, massage, or take a yoga or dance class. Go play golf, go surfing or spend the afternoon on your hobbies. Order food in, or go to your favorite restaurant. Be gentle with you.
  9. Be prepared for the triggers. People talking about what they are doing with their mom, dad, brother or sister and expect to have your sense of loss aggravated. Do not avoid this, but sit with it. Feel into it.
  10. Spend some time reflecting on all the good things you have in your life. Give gratitude for your own life, the love that surrounds you and the people you still have to share it with.
  11. A problem shared is a problem halved. Find someone who understands: a friend, family member or grief counselor who can collectively empathize with your feelings and is not trying to get you "back to normal." Seek out an environment where your deepest fears and pains will be nicely accepted in a loving, non-judgmental way.