Parenting through anniversaries and significant events after the loss of a loved one can be challenging. Certain dates may serve as a reminder of a loved one’s death, such as the anniversary of the loss, birthdays and significant holidays. Reminders of the deceased, such as visiting the grave or attending a funeral or memorial for others, may trigger the pain of a loss. Reminders may also be linked to your senses, sights, sounds and smells, such as hearing their lost loved one’s favourite song. Even though reminders of their loss are inevitable, they may elicit a heightened sense of grief for your child.
Since everyone grieves differently, it is difficult to anticipate how your child may feel on an anniversary, birthday, or holiday. Although, preparing your child for how they may feel on these dates will help normalise the fact that such dates may evoke powerful memories and feelings surrounding their lost loved ones. In fact, knowing that they are likely to experience grief reactions may help them understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
Planning together with your child will give them a greater sense of control and may help ease some anxiety in the lead up to these dates. Your child may want to commemorate special events with ongoing emotional connections with their lost loved one. Alternatively, your child may prefer to keep their memories to themselves and grieve privately, and that is okay too. There is no right or wrong answer with as to what you and your child should or shouldn’t do. Ensure you reiterate to your child that if they change their mind depending on how they feel on the day that is okay too.
Occasions such as birthdays and significant holidays often come with established traditions and rituals. Some families may want to continue their traditions, and others may want to change them as their ‘normal’ has changed. Either decision is okay and whatever you choose together this year can always be changed next year.
Family and friends
Sometimes concerned family or friends may be unsure of how to help as significant dates approach. Be honest that it is a difficult time and let them know what you and your child needs and how they can be helpful. It might be helpful to share the plans with family and friends once you have decided what you would like to do on the day. Your child may want to schedule social activities or plans with loved ones during a potentially lonely day to provide them with extra support and remind them that they are not alone in their grief.
Supporting your child
Significant dates may be bittersweet as you and your child experience the painful reminders of the loss, difficult memories of the death, and the joyful times you shared with your loved one.
- Look at the calendar and make a note of events and milestones that may be difficult.
- Ask your child in advance what they want to do on these dates and plan together.
- Try spend time with people who are supportive of you and your child if they want to be around loved ones.
- Offer your child to write in a journal throughout the day.
- Give your child permission to not be okay, freeing them from expectations.
- Consider ways your child could express their feelings in a creative way, such as art, writing, or music.
- Offer your child a forum to connect with others and share their memories.
- Offer your child to do something that makes them feel good. This may be as simple as going to their favourite café.
- Hold a personal ceremony or ritual, such as lighting a candle.