Getting through special occasions without your child

There are many events throughout the year which will trigger your grief more intensely. It could be the big ones like birthdays, Christmas and other religious holidays, Mother’s and Father’s Day or the anniversary of their death. Or dates that are more personal to you.

Although you’ll be aware that they’re approaching, it’s impossible to say how you’ll feel when it comes. The most you can do is try to prepare in whatever way works for you but be cautious that the anxiety around the forthcoming event doesn’t become worse than the day itself. Often parents end up reliving the events of that time in the lead-up. Memories become overwhelming and they become fearful that they won’t cope. Often this is the worst part.

Here are some things other parents say helps:

  • Mark the occasion in some way and incorporate the memory of your child – whether that’s visiting their grave or a special place, lighting a candle, or cooking their favourite meal
  • Escape if you need to. Lots of parents take themselves away over Christmas because they can’t face doing it in same way without their child there. That’s ok. Over time you might feel more able to create new traditions.
  • Let people around you know how you’re feeling so they can understand what you might need or want
  • Talk to your close family to see how they feel. If you have other children, their views might differ from yours so be prepared to talk about this and compromise
  • Make sure you have someone there to support you if you don’t have close family around
  • If you’re feeling bombarded by TV adverts, escape in a good book instead
  • Mark the day on your social media or their memorialised account to share it with other people who cared about your child
  • Spend time with your faith group
  • Volunteer or fundraise for a charity of significance for you and your family
  • Write to or about your child as a way of remembering them
  • Get together with other bereaved parents
  • Be gentle and patient with yourself.

Family get-togethers or other celebratory occasions can be difficult to get through when you feel the absence of your child. This can be especially difficult if they are milestones for other children or young people in the family, such as graduations, engagements and weddings. You’ll probably feel pressure to enjoy the day, all the while being reminded that these are events that represent your child’s lost future.

The things she missed out on add up – birthdays, Christmases, mother and father’s days, important dates or milestones and achievements in life. Parents will invariably think about what their child would be like now, what they would be doing, what would they look like, which becomes harder and harder as time goes on. Hannah was 13 when she died, it will soon be her 17th birthday, whilst we can see her friends growing up it is getting more difficult to visualise or imagine what she would be like.

Simon, dad of Hannah

It’s important you do what’s right for you but it can often help to talk to the people involved beforehand. This will help them understand if you need to leave early, or if you can’t commit to a fixed plan – they might need to accept that your decision to attend or not will need to be made last minute.

If it’s another one of your children’s special day, they will probably be acutely aware of their brother or sister’s absence from their day. Talk together about how you can get through it as a family – maybe you can think of ways to acknowledge them on the day. You might want to ask for them to be mentioned in a speech, have a picture of them at a wedding or set up a donation box in their honour.

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