You might think that grief only happens immediately after someone you love has died. But grief is a life-long process and nothing you’ll ever ‘get over’. That’s why every year on birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, feelings can be stirred up again.
Here’s some guidance about how to manage your grief through the years that follow a death.
There are the obvious days, like their loved one’s birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the anniversary of the date they died, and family holidays, like Kirihimete (Christmas), Hanukkah, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr.
But there are also less obvious ones, especially for tamariki when they’re faced with milestones that their loved one isn’t there for. Like the last day of the kura (school) term, their birthday or graduation day. As they grow older, more milestones will happen, like their wedding day, first job day, or the birth of their taitamaiti (child) day.
Every occasion that their loved one isn’t there for is important and it can feel hard when they’re approaching and happening.
Everyone grieves in their own way which means everyone feels differently about anniversaries and special days. Try to be mindful of upcoming days and help your tamariki to decide how to handle the day in a way that works for them and you.
Your taitamaiti might feel like it’s too painful to focus on the person on that day. In which case, you could do something completely different to what you’d normally do, to help avoid overwhelming memories and feelings.
Or your taitamaiti might want to do something that connects them with their loved one. (We’ve got some ideas below for how you could mark this day.)
Sometimes in a whānau everyone feels differently about how they want to spend the day. If this happens, you could agree to do something at some point in the day to remember, like the morning. This gives everyone time to remember and connect with the person who died while also giving an out for those people who don’t want to mark it.
Be kind to yourselves: choosing to mark a special day or not doesn’t mean your or your child’s love and grief are any more or less than anyone else’s. Expect to feel differently every time an anniversary comes round. What worked for you all last year might not work this, or next, year.
If you feel comfortable, tell friends, colleagues and teachers about the days that are important to your whānau. This way, they can reach out with support at these tough times.
Although you might be more focused on the grief of your tamariki, it’s important that you look after and be kind to yourself like you’re encouraging your tamariki to. Try to carve out some relaxation time on these days, whether that’s a bubble bath, chatting to friends, cooking a nice meal or treating yourselves to a takeaway. Doing this on these days can make it feel a little easier.
The special days are difficult for you too. By looking after yourself and doing things that help you, it shows tamariki that they can do it too.