Despite the festive decorations and cheery holiday events on the calendar, this time of year may be the most difficult for those of us who have lost a loved one. Whether a person’s grief is new or long-standing, it is very common to re-experience that loss at such “anniversary moments.” For some, the recognition that a holiday will be different without that person creates a sense of dread about the occasion that leads to avoidance and isolation. For others, the reaction can come as a surprise, or what Alan Wolfelt describes as sudden “grief attacks” or “memory embraces” in his book Understanding Grief. While he acknowledges that many bereaved people do not ask for support and therefore suffer alone on such anniversary days, he notes the importance of finding help and “mapping” the way to getting it.
Knowing that a grief response is completely natural and normal, even when it contrasts from the expected holiday cheer, is part of acceptance. Although treating yourself with compassion when these moments occur is likely to take practice, it is the sort of discipline that builds on itself and moves you into the space of helping others as they face the same challenges.
-Stacy Notaras Murphy