You’re having a good day, the sun is shining, you’re walking through the grocery store getting the ingredients you need for tonights dinner… and that’s when it happens. You see a daughter helping her elderly mom grocery shop and pick up the essentials. You remember the last time you were at this exact grocery store with your mom. You remember bickering about something so small and irrelevant and feel guilty. You are reminded that you have been robbed of creating new memories with her, and that you’ll never be able to help her with anything ever again. You’ll never be able to return the love to her in her old age that she once nurtured you with when you were young. You think about everything you wish was different and how unfair life is. All of a sudden your chest is tight and you can’t breathe, you’re overwhelmed by grief and looking for a place to hide so you can cry your face off.
Yup, that happened to me. In a busy Costco. That sucked.
Time heals all wounds? I call bullshit. It hurts like it happened yesterday and I that pain is something I will never forget. Grief comes in waves. The wave is really really intense at first. They happen everyday, sometimes numerous times throughout the day. But slowly (very slowly), as each day passes, the waves begin to become more distant. The waves of grief still get really intense from time to time (for what might feel like no reason at all), and knock you on your ass unexpectedly. Just remember that when it knocks you in your ass, stay there for however long you need, and then get back up again.
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life” – Virginia Woolf
Living with loss can be crippling and overwhelming on a good day and the anticipation leading up to a holiday, birthday or the dreaded 1 year anniversary of your loved ones passing can really magnify the loss. The sadness deepens and can feel isolating. The need for extra support is greatest during the holidays and with Mothers Day just around the corner, I wanted to share some of the things I have done to help me get through tough days, special occasions and anniversaries. I am writing from the perspective of grieving the loss of my mom, but these tips are not limited to mother loss, and may be able to help you cope with any kind of grief.
Things that might help and guide you through the tough day:
- Know that you are not alone.
- I know you might feel like you are, but I promise you that there is someone out there who has felt the same pain you are feeling. No story, experience or relationship is the exact same, but grief is the emotion of love with nowhere to go, and one thing for sure, everyone at one point has loved and lost.
- Do not pretend you are not hurting.
- You are allowed to be sad, to take a day (or two or three) off from work, and to need extra love and support. Try not to suppress your emotions (whatever kind of emotions you are feeling) and instead, lean towards them. Sometimes it helps to just say how you are feeling out loud to someone you trust or even just saying it to yourself. I find that when I verbalize how I am feeling, the emotion that is weighing me down feels much lighter.
- Have a plan B.
- Be prepared to change plans at last minute if you need to. Christmas 2019 was my first Christmas after losing my mom and I will be honest when I tell you I wasn’t feeling festive in the slightest. We made plans to go to my best-friends moms house to celebrate and have dinner with and I was open about having a plan B in case I felt overwhelmed with sadness and grief. I told my boyfriend and best-friend of my secondary arrangement and told them I would be honest about how I was feeling when the day came. In the end, I didn’t have to resort to plan B, but just knowing that I had another option gave me comfort.
- Change holiday traditions.. or completely cancel it for the year.
- Yup. It’s okay not to participate in the holiday. Holidays come around every single year, and if it’s better for your mental health to bypass this day, you can do it. Grief has a unique way of giving us permission to evaluate what parts of the holidays we enjoy and what parts we don’t. Keep traditions that you love, and maybe skip traditions if they are not serving you.
- Be gentle with yourself.
- It’s completely normal to not be in a “holiday” mood, to feel slightly bitter around Mothers or Fathers Day or to feel upset around their birthday or the anniversary of your loved ones passing. Try to think of a mantra that will guide you through the day. One of my mantras when I am feeling down and crippled by grief is “I can be sad, and healing, simultaneously.”. This reminds me to be gentle with myself and that my healing process hasn’t stopped if I have a really bad day or I am really dreading a certain day ahead.
- Do yoga or your favourite exercise.
- I probably wouldn’t suggest forcing yourself to do a super intense workout if you are feeling sad.. but I mean, if that’s your style then I guess who am I to tell you to do different?! I like to do some gentle stretches or if I feel in the mood I will do a yoga flow or ride my bike to move some stagnant or heavy energy through my body. Exercising creates endorphins that help to immediately reduce stress and anxiety.
- Try meditating.
- Meditating can help you to feel connected to your loved one. Even if you haven’t made peace with the loss, meditating can help to calm the mind and at least provide a little bit of comfort and stillness amidst the sadness.
- Take a deep breath.
- Taking a moment, or a few moments to focus on breath can lower blood pressure, cortisol levels and calm anxiety. It doesn’t matter where you are: Close your eyes, and take as many deep breaths as you need.
- I was with my mom when she took her last breath. I sat with her, told her how much I love her, thanked her for being my mom and I hugged her for as long as I could before I said my last goodbye. I am still traumatized by that moment, however I would not change a thing. I needed to be with her and hold her hand as she went home. But watching that last breath, has made me appreciate every single breath I have. I take a deep breath and I am humbly reminded of life and my gratitude for it.
“Grief and resilience live together.”
Things to do to honour your loved one on holidays or special occasions:
- Listen to music that they loved or reminds you of them.
- I am a music person. I feel music deep in my soul and I connect with it immediately. I made a playlist of songs that remind me of my mom, or songs that I know she would be playing on repeat, or songs that she loved. It’s about 3 hours long, has ALL KINDS of music on it, and I listen to it all day. It always makes me feel her energetic and vibrant presence.
- Write them a letter or a card.
- I always buy my mom a card for her birthday, Christmas and Mothers Day. I write to her just as I would if she hadn’t passed. I find the process of buying a card for her a way to include and celebrate her, and I find that writing in the card is incredibly healing. I will put the card on the Christmas tree, in front of flowers or a picture of her, or I’ll simply put it away in the bundle of cards I have kept from her in the past.
- Reach out to friends or family and talk about your loved ones.
- People like to be reminded of special memories, funny moments or their personality. Your loved one lives on through memories that YOU have. Share them with people who will appreciate listening and have stories to share with you too.
- Social media isn’t always the best for positivity, however I like to post a picture of us and ask our friends and family what their favourite memory of my mom was. A lot of the comments make me smile, laugh or cry, and it reminds me that she was loved and that I am not the only one who misses her.
- Light a candle.
- The ritual of lighting a candle to pay tribute to a life “passed” has long been a part of our culture. Keeping a light burning in remembrance signifies that the memory still lives on and burns light. It is a ritual that promotes reflection and signifies remembrance.
- I bought a candle on the 1 year of my moms passing. It is in a beautiful crystal glass and as soon as I saw it, I knew it was “Mom’s candle”. It smells beautiful and now whenever I light it, it is like I am surrounded by my moms light and guidance, and that makes me feel a sense of calm.
- Wear something of theirs.
- If you have a blanket or any article of clothing or jewelry that was theirs, having it around you might help you feel connected to them. I believe that material objects are only temporary on this earth (energy being permanent), but I cuddle up to my moms quilt on days or evenings when I am missing her a little extra.
- If you have an urn, move it to a place for the day where you will see it more often throughout the day.
- If you don’t have an urn, make a visit to the visit their grave, or visit your place of worship.
- Buy flowers.
- I buy flowers for my mom as a way to include her in the holiday. Flowers always brighten up the room, and that is how I want my mom to be remembered.
- Say a prayer.
- You don’t need to be religious to pray. Saying a prayer that honours the life of your loved one is a great way to have them be apart of the day.
- Make something.
- Make their favourite meal, or a meal that they used to make for you. Food is a way to show and feel love. I baked my mom a gluten free cake for her birthday, and it was something that was very soothing and nourishing to my soul. I blew a candle for her and I knew we would have watched movies all night, laughing and stuffed our faces with as much cake as possible.
- On the 6th month after my moms passing, my boyfriend took me a place where we painted mugs all afternoon. My mom used to gift me with mugs all the time and I drink my tea from them everyday and I smile every time I reach for one of the mugs she gave me. We spent about 3-4 hours being creative and painting and now we have mugs that remind me of her!
- Burn sage.
- Smudging has been long used to connect to the spiritual realm and used to achieve a healing state. Burning sage is very calming and can be a great addition to your healing ritual.
I have included all of these in my own healing journey, but please know that they might not resonate with you or serve everyone. If this is the case, I encourage you to find something to do that honours your loved one passed, or do something that makes you feel empowered and full of love. I find that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves trying to think of a perfect way to honour our loved ones, then struggle and feel disappointed in ourselves when we can’t think of that perfect thing. Truth is, whatever you choose to do doesn’t have to be extravagant and it doesn’t have to prove to the world that you loved them the most or miss them the most. It is okay if it is something small. It should just be something that you feel honours them and is an expression of love.
“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them” – Leo Tolstoy
Grief books have also really helped me, and my favourite one to flip through on days when I need a little extra reassurance is called Healing Through Loss by Martha W. Hickman.
You can get through the day. There are going to be many really good days and really bad days ahead, but when I find myself getting overwhelmed by grief and tightness in chest, I turn to my rituals to calm me and remind myself that I’m okay.
Let me know in the comment section if there is anything you love doing to honour your loved one! There is great power in community and connection. Remember, you’re not alone!
Sending you love on your healing journey wherever you are.