The seasons have changed and summer is finally in full swing. There are concerts in the park, fairs and festivals, weekend barbecues, special holidays celebrations with fireworks and picnics, and maybe even a family reunion or two. So many traditional social events with which to make fond memories.
But for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, whether recent or years past, traditional social events may make for some painful times. Though we have no choice as to having to grieve when we lose someone dear, we can choose how we maintain our lives as we grieve.
Some of us in deep grief choose to jump feet first into any and all invitations or activities that we can find. It becomes a way of deferring our grief for a time. Others in mourning choose to discern how and when they will interact socially, mindful of their need to slow down and turn inward for healing. Each path is of benefit if it honors our needs.
The summer following my husband Trent’s death was very difficult for me to navigate. Summer had always been my favorite family season, with so many fun and energizing outdoor activities to share. Though my young daughters were anxious to experience summer as it “should be” there was a gray pallor that permeated the sunny days that lay ahead for me. And though it was unusual for my typically active family, I instinctively felt the need to accept only those invitations that would help me reach my goal — that of simple survival. Staying in touch with my own tender needs was the only healthy way through my grief.
There were those, of course, that saw my decision to decline activities as an unhealthy or even selfish act. When others question our decision to change or decline a gathering, their criticism may cause us to second guess ourselves.
But I have learned that if we are honest with ourselves and honor our own unique journey, we won’t need the approval of others to create a new tradition for ourselves. Though I respect others’ perspectives, I knew in my early grief I needed time to myself more than a constant flurry of activity. The girls and I created a few of our own new traditions that have sustained us over the years in addition to cherishing some old familiar ones as well.
As difficult as it seems to look forward, there is healing in each passing season. It’s okay to participate in any activities we feel comfortable with. But sometimes a holiday or activity doesn’t hold the same meaning it once did, so choosing a different way to celebrate may brings us a new focus, and perhaps a new perspective. As we design an event or ceremony that meets our immediate needs, we will create a new memory that will add life to our past. And if we chose to do something totally different for a time, we may find solace in the break from grief.
We can always return to traditional or annual events and holiday fare at our own pace as we become accustomed to life without our loved one. It is in the choosing that we create our “new normal” in which to live.
It’s important to recognize what we need to make it through those seasons, holidays or special events that seem so painful. And equally as important to let others know our plans so they can support and encourage our decision for healthy mourning. Don’t lose heart. Each year that we decide to make new memories, it becomes easier to cherish the ones of the past.
By following our own unique path through healthy mourning, by being honest with ourselves and honoring our needs, we will find the way to memorialize each holiday or gathering in a new and touching way that will bring us closer to joyful living.
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