The challenges of living and coping with loss can seem insurmountable on a day-to-day basis. Trying to get through life while being assaulted by a never-ending stream of unexpected triggers is something every griever can relate to.
Still, there’s no doubt that some days and some dates are more foreboding than others. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and special occasions…not to mention the dreaded anniversary of the loss itself. When coping with loss, what is the best way to handle the days that bring with them the possibility of additional hardship?
The grieving process can make someone coping with loss feel like a pinball being bounced around without any choice of what will hit them next. And this topic of how to handle special occasions comes up a lot when I speak with those who are grieving. “Our wedding anniversary is next week, I don’t know how I’m going to handle it,” or, “This will be the first time I’ve had to celebrate my birthday without him in almost 50 years”.
Grievers may be more likely to dread the big dates as they loom on the calendar because they think, how can something that’s already so hard get any harder? How can I cope when I feel like I have nothing left to give?
The advice I give to most grievers is unusual, but simple: on those big days, plan to be sad. It may sound strange, because of all the plans we make in our life, planning to be sad doesn’t usually go on our to-do list.
But I’ve spoken to too many grievers who thought that if they just held their breath and closed their eyes the day would pass without notice and that they could get through it like any other day. And from what they’ve told me afterwards, they were wrong.
A lot of life is about anticipating, and planning to be sad means having a plan for the day. It’s not about dread, it’s about taking some control. And control is something most people who are coping with loss feel they have lost.
So what does planning to be sad look like? It means thinking about what will bring you some comfort on that day. It means either surrounding yourself with those who lift you up, or retreating to the place where you will find the most solace and peace.
This practice can carry over into the other days as well. It’s a reminder that you get to say how you do this, and doing what you can to surround yourself with what comforts and nourishes you can make a difference in how you cope.
There are no guarantees, and nothing changes the fact that these big days can make a hard time even harder. But no matter how you choose to commemorate it and no matter what step you take to bring some comfort – at the end of the day you will have gotten through it.
And for those coping with loss, getting through the day is sometimes the best we can hope for.
Only the griever understands how grief changes its size and shape each and every day. And only a fellow griever can understand that some days are simply harder than others. You can find support by visiting our wonderful community of members here: www.griefincommon.com.