There are many days in the year that are significant for bereaved families. Some of them are public festivals when the whole world seems to be celebrating; others are directly related to our family, such as our child’s birthday and the day he or she died. We feel apprehensive as we contemplate these days, especially in the early years of our bereavement, and wonder how to survive them. Planning for such occasions does not take away the pain but can help us to get through the day. Each of us within the family grieves in our own particular way and at our own pace, so we need to take each other into consideration when making these plans. We should talk to each other, about how we are feeling or what we might want to do. Thinking and talking together can help us to prepare ourselves for the approaching special day, and sometimes when these plans do go right, the day can bring surprising comfort to us. If we tell other people about our thoughts, whether individual or shared in the family, then they might well understand us better. It is not always easy for people, even the closest of family or friends, or the most caring of people, to appreciate how our bereavement is central in our minds. We should try not to be too influenced by what others think, or by what we imagine they expect of us. Hopefully, as time passes, we will receive the support which is necessary when our grief still exhausts us, and our energy reserves are low. We should try to be gentle with ourselves and each other, including those people who wish to help and encourage us, even if, at times and in some situations, they do neither. Birthdays are quite difficult. For us as parents, the birthday of our child recalls the day he or she was born, and also their death, when we are bereaved parents, it becomes a poignant and regular reminder of what we have lost. Not all members of the family may share the same feelings but saying this does not deny that siblings can be really saddened and emotionally affected by the death of a brother or sister, whether older or younger than themselves. Grandparents too can be extremely distressed by all the sadness and pain around them. Our own birthdays, and those of our surviving children, will often be sad because of the missing person from our family. The anniversary of the day our son or daughter dies is also difficult, but different. It is a new milestone, and not a celebration in any sense of the word. Some people will remember the date, and send us messages of sympathy, but as time goes by it can become a date only we and a few close family and friends will mark. In some places, it may be possible to put an in-Memoriam notice in a local newspaper, or the internet for many years, we can be comforted by a welcome response to such an item. In some churches, there are regular posts of congregation members and their families who have died. The reading of this list in a service, with our child’s name on it, can recognise the significance of this particular date.
We choose (if possible) to take a day off work on this anniversary; we go for a walk, take flowers to the grave, or just stay at home. It is a day for BEING KIND TO OURSELVES. Family weddings can be very stressful. If our adult son or daughter who has died was unmarried, their absence makes us painfully aware that this is a day that they themselves may have been denied, and that we as parents will never enjoy the happiness of seeing him or her marry or of becoming grandparents to their children. If our married son or daughter has died, our grief might well be added to by the pain and distress we see in our son-in-law or daughter-in-law. How can we help? If we are invited to a wedding of other relatives or friends, neighbours or work colleagues, we would want everyone to be happy at such an event, but the loss of our son or daughter casts a dark shadow over our own feelings. We may decide that it would be better for us not to attend at all, or for us to stay for only part of the celebrations. However, in some circumstances, we would really want to be there, in a way representing our child—perhaps at the wedding of one of their friends. Of course, for the wedding of any other of our own children, many conflicting thoughts could fill our day, and the preparations for it. Perhaps this is one occasion in which we feel we must try to be the ‘strong ones’, even if surrounded by excited family and friends.
Adapted from a TFC Newsletter