After losing a loved one, every single day can be a struggle. Birthdays, celebrations and holidays can amplify one’s grief, creating a palpable sense of loss that can make the idea of a celebrating seem impossible. Parties and large groups can intensify the absence of a lost loved one, making good times feel unattainable. And holidays like Valentine’s Day can be especially confusing, bringing old emotions right back up to the surface. It can be difficult to explain this sort of fluid grief to others, so the person grieving can oftentimes be left feeling isolated and unable to explain their pain. While these difficult periods usually decrease over time, there are strategies to help get through them in the meantime. This Valentine’s Day does not have to be covered with grief. Give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays.
The first step is this: Give yourself permission to excuse yourself if you are uncomfortable. A little bit of alone time can be just the thing to center yourself, take a deep breath and handle the emotions. Bathrooms work great in public places and who is going to deny you from using the bathroom? Nobody. Use it as a place to rejuvenate yourself; splash some water on your face, grab a piece of gum from your purse and give yourself a pep talk. A few minutes to cool down with some privacy can be the perfect solution for an oncoming wave of painful feelings.
Step two is knowing that crying is not a weakness; it is healing. If your eyes well up, let them. You don’t need to run and hide. Be brave and tell people how you feel. If you don’t know how you feel, say that. Share with your inner circle what you need and how they can help provide support. Tell the people around you, “I am so full of emotions, my eyes leak. I feel ___________ right now. What I need from you is __________. You can do this by (giving/showing/allowing) ______________________________.” Communicating your needs isn’t weak or desperate; it is incredibly brave and displays a sense of self-awareness.
Finally, the most important step is to talk about the loss. Silence does not make time go by faster and often does not heal the wounds. Talk to someone you trust. Tell them, “Hey, I might need to tell this story 100 times before I even understand it. Do you think you can let me tell my story that much without it bothering you? This is what I need from our friendship right now.” This is great because it takes the pressure off of the inner thought of, “Am I just bothering this person again and again?” Talking about loss can make you feel vulnerable or even whiney, but it’s actually an imperative part of the healing process. Communicating with your friends and family about what you’re feeling helps them better understand how to move forward without inadvertently hurting you in the process.
While words and meditation strategies are great for managing relationships, there are also plenty of personal activities that can help in times when grief and pain are intensified by an event. One idea is to print out ten pictures of your loved one you do not currently have in frames. Paste one photo into a new journal and write the story of what that photo means to you. Then, if you’d like to share, you can ask your family and friends if they would like to contribute by having them write their own version of the picture you chose. In the end, you will have the wonderful stories you wrote, and possibly the stories of your other loved ones, all connected to the photograph you chose. This, among other activities, can be a great way to honor and incorporate your loved one despite their absence.
By engaging with the memories of your loved one, you are inviting conversation about their presence and essence. Who knows, you might even end up laughing so hard that you cry and then end up making new memories about your loved one. Finding new ways to keep their memory alive can offer a unique sense of healing that allows you to move forward with your lost loved one. Other activities that can make you feel close to your missing loved one can include listening to music that you associate with that person, watching movies they enjoyed, cooking one of their favorite meals or making a toast to that person at dinner. Just because they are not with you physically that day does not mean their memory can’t be included and honored in the celebrations.