Birthdays, Weddings and Anniversaries
The grieving process is a long and difficult journey, and standing out like hurdles on the path to normalcy are all the significant events that you used to celebrate, but which you now want only to forget.
But there is no getting away from them.
There are only so many wedding invitations that you can refuse, only so many card shops that you can avert your eyes from in the week before Father’s day, only so much ‘Bah, humbug’ that you can mutter at Christmas. At some stage you will have to face these obstacles, and sooner or later one of them will bring you crashing to the floor.
Weddings are especially difficult and should be avoided in the first year if at all possible. Family weddings cannot be avoided and so you should try and prepare yourself for what is to come. Firstly, it will be an occasion of great joy for the happy couple, but you will find it hard to share their joy, however much you love them. You will try, for their sake, to smile for the wedding photographer, but all the while you will be longing to walk away.
Seeing two people setting out on a journey, which for you has just ended, will be extremely difficult. You will be reminded of your own wedding and that memory will fill you with untold sadness – sadness that you will have to disguise, when all about you are happy faces. The sight of so many people celebrating what you have just lost will reduce you to tears, but you will not want to be seen to be crying, just in case your distress spoils the happy day for other people. And so you will be brave, for the sake of your family, you will get through the day as best you can and you will leave feeling empty and alone.
Birthdays are also difficult. You may well wander around the shops, musing on what to buy for your husband’s birthday before you realise that he no longer has a birthday. Your own birthday will be even more difficult. If you do not have any children, then it will be a very lonely, empty day. You should try to buy yourself a small treat, just so that you have something nice to open. Your friends and family will be especially aware of how you are feeling, and will almost certainly try to make you feel special in some way, either by taking you out or by giving you a present. In any event, you should try to remember that it is only a day, a day like any other and that by building it up into something important will only cause you pain.
Christmas is unavoidable. Your first Christmas alone will be hellish, and it would be best spent amongst friends or family. But even in the midst of loving family you are likely to feel very uncomfortable. It is all to do with the giving of presents. Sitting and watching couples exchanging gifts will only remind you of all the things that you would like to have bought for your husband. It will remind you of all the lovely things that he bought for you in the past, and of the love that went into choosing them. And if he never bought you anything nice, then you will be thinking of all the useless kitchen gadgets and unfortunate red, lacy knickers that are now all that you have to remind you of his presents, and his presence at Christmas.
If you have children, then Christmas is something that you will have to grin and bear. They will be expecting the same amount of excitement and the same number of presents as usual. You may not be in a position to be able to afford to give them everything that they want, so only buy what you can easily afford and try to remind them that things are different for you now. Anyway, other people are bound to spoil them, so you really shouldn’t worry. Being with other people at Christmas will help greatly, and if there are other children to play with then you might be able to grab a few moments of quiet reflection. Otherwise just fix a smile on your face and get through it any way you can. The laughter of children is the best tonic that you can have at this time, so try to make the most of it.
New Year’s Eve sucks the big one. I never really liked it when Charlie was alive, but my God, how I hate it now.
It is built up to be this big, happy event when people get together and have a fantastic time, but in reality I think it nearly always ends up as one, great big let-down. There is a false sense of importance attached to it, and you should not attach any importance to it whatsoever. My recipe for a perfect New Year’s Eve in the early years of widowhood is a nice meal, followed by a mug of Horlicks and an early night. If you do want to go out, get drunk and then stand alone whilst other couples snog on the stroke of midnight, the go right ahead – but don’t say I didn’t warn you. You will invariably wake up the next morning with a thumping hangover and a feeling of deep disillusionment – and if that is how you want to greet the New Year then so be it.
The anniversary of your husband’s death will undoubtedly be one of the most significant hurdles that you will have to face. It may send you spiralling into depression, but if you are like me, then you will see it a milestone on the road to your recovery. Strangely, I did not feel sad -I felt elated. I knew that I had triumphed on that day, and I honestly believed that I could face anything that fate had to throw at me once it was over. I am not suggesting that you will feel the same way, but I do hope that you will feel a certain sense of achievement at surviving the trials of the previous year.
You will probably receive many cards and bouquets of flowers, and it is likely that many will come from people whom you haven’t heard from in a while. If you are not feeling depressed or especially sad, then others might think it strange, but others have not been feeling what you have been feeling for the last twelve months. You will have thought of your husband every day to a varying degree, and you will think about him to varying degrees every day for the rest of your life. Other people forget, it is human nature to do so, but they will remember on that particular day and they will want to let you know that they are thinking of you. It is always nice to get flowers, and getting cards from people that you haven’t heard from in a while will give you an excuse to get back in touch with them again.
The anniversary might well have an unexpected effect on your child. I thought my daughter Rosie was over the worst of her grief when I took her down to Charlie’s grave on the second anniversary of his death, but I was totally unprepared for the reaction that followed. Visiting the grave on that day triggered an extreme reaction, culminating with my five-year-old daughter telling me that she wanted to die, so that she could be with her daddy again.
It is a heartbreaking thing for any parent to hear their own child expressing the wish to die, but sometimes we all need a shock like that to make us realise what that child is really feeling.
Grief does not have a specific timescale, especially in the case of a child, so you must be prepared for an extreme reaction on a day of particular significance, and you should try to deal with it accordingly.
Weddings, anniversaries and birthdays are not always happy days for you or your children and you must spend them in ways that are going to cause you least distress. In time they will become easier and a great deal more enjoyable, but don’t feel that you have to enjoy them just because other people expect you to. Do what you feel is right and always remember that it is only one day out of your life. Cross it off your calendar when it is over and then move on.