If you’ve known loss and grief, you have maybe also known the fear of celebrating. Just like the seasons, grief constantly changes. Fall and the holiday season can be especially taxing on your recovery. As each important date comes and goes – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – you’re reminded that the person you’re grieving isn’t there to enjoy them with you. This feeling can be overwhelming and may cause you to skip or downplay important celebrations in your life.
Everyone recovers from loss differently, so there’s no right or wrong way to approach these things. This list will go over a few different ideas that both honor your loved one and honor yourself so that you may once again find joy in these meaningful occasions.
Gather with friends and family.
Grief can feel isolating, but you don’t have to face important days alone. Gather your closest family members and friends for lunch or dinner or do something fun, like teaching younger relatives one of your loved one’s favorite hobbies: fishing, playing card games, gardening, etc. Be sure to share special memories with one another while you’re together. Before you know it, you’ll be making new memories with one another.
Visit a place they loved.
What was their “happy place”? Maybe it was a hiking trail, specific restaurant, or movie theater. Whatever the location, your gut reaction may be to avoid this place because you’re worried it would be too painful to go without them. But visiting these places on important days throughout the year can also bring back all the wonderful memories you have there and make you feel closer to your loved one.
It might sound cliche, but this advice is so common because it works. Going for a short walk, even for 10 minutes, gets fresh air in your system and can provide some of that quiet alone time your soul is craving. You could also plant something in their honor, like a tree or their favorite flowers. Every time you see that plant, you’ll think of your loved one. (If it’s too cold outside to plant something, indoor plants are a great option!)
Embrace their favorite things.
This is especially great advice for days like their birthday or holidays that held special meaning to them. Did they have a favorite birthday cake? Was their house all decked out for Christmastime each year? Embrace these traits by baking that birthday treat, engaging in their favorite Christmas tradition, or even watching the TV show they obsessed over. You can connect with them by listening to songs, watching movies, and eating food they loved.
Embrace your favorite things.
On big days, take time to nurture yourself and the things that make you unique and special. After all, the things you love most in life are the same things the person you’re grieving loved most about you, too. Treat yourself by leaning into whatever feels good, whether that’s self-care tasks like taking a bubble bath and getting a massage or quirks like reorganizing the silverware drawer – everything’s on the table.
Carry out an act of kindness.
Big or small, this can be a wonderful option for someone whose grief has drained their energy for most other things. A quick online donation to a charitable organization that they were inspired by or involved in is a great way to honor their memory. Or you could honor them with simple gestures, like holding a door open for someone or surprising a stranger with a compliment. When it comes to kindness, a little goes a long way.
Write them a letter.
Many grieving people do this whether they’re celebrating a special date or not. Writing a letter to your loved one allows you to share anything you’d normally share with them that day. You may consider inviting their loved ones to contribute their own letters and messages as well. And if writing isn’t your strong suit, you can create something with your hands with them in mind: painting their portrait, building a birdhouse, and other small projects are a great place to start.
Visit their resting place.
This likely seems like an obvious thing to do, but going to their burial place or the site where their ashes were scattered is a lovely way to pay tribute on important days. You can do this alone or with others, and you can bring with you any mementos, gifts, or other items that help you feel connected to them. This can look like bringing them roses on your anniversary, a wrapped gift on their birthday, or even your world-famous deviled eggs on Thanksgiving.
Grief is exhausting. Even simple things like brushing your teeth or getting groceries can feel like tedious tasks after a loss. Special days will hit everyone differently, and you should do what’s best for you. For some people, that means not changing their day-to-day routine. For others, that means taking some time alone to be with your thoughts … and doing nothing else at all. While it would be amazing to engage in at least one other thing on this list, sometimes it’s just not possible – and that’s perfectly ok.
You may have noticed that each of these ideas is very different from the next. That’s because there’s no true rulebook when it comes to grief. Some folks like to visit and decorate graves, some throw parties, and for others, just a simple act of remembrance is all they need. While it may seem easier to skip the day altogether, ignoring important occasions and celebrations is equally as painful. We hope this list can help you find a meaningful way to honor your loved one, no matter the day.