It doesn’t matter what time of year it is when you are grieving.
There are always birthdays, anniversaries, a good grade, a win on the soccer field, a dance recital, or a piano concert that will not be attended by the person who died. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is when you are grieving. May and June in particular, however, are months filled with events such as end-of-year celebrations, graduations, Mother and Father’s Day, and other life milestones. The card and gift industry push messages of celebration; there are television ads for stereotypical gifts like flowers and jewelry or ties and golf clubs. They are all in the service of honoring a mother or a father who is alive.
For those who are grieving, these transitions and holidays can be a difficult time. How do you spend the day? Who will take the child to pick out the card for the surviving parent? What is it like to see others celebrating when you are having the experience of loss? There may be a whole range of different feelings, whether it is the first Mother or Father’s Day or the death happened many years ago. There is only one graduation from kindergarten or high school or college. You may be the mother or father grieving for a child who has died or for the loss of the family and future you envisioned for yourself. Watching others graduate when your child has died and seeing what might have been is filled with so much longing. It is easy to say that person is there with you in spirit, and that is likely true, but it is not the same.
First and foremost, it’s important to actually pause and recognize that no matter how long it has been since the person died, or what your relationship was like when she or he was alive, it is normal to have many different, and sometimes conflicting, feelings around your loss. It can be helpful to know that these may change by the minute and not everyone in the family will have the same ones. Allow yourself the time and space to acknowledge whatever feelings you may have. It can be important to remember that experiencing happiness and moving forward in your life in no way diminishes the love you have for that person.
Sometimes the anticipation can be harder than the day or event itself. It is often helpful to plan ahead for how you might want to spend the day. Everyone’s grief is unique, and there is no right or wrong way to do this. Different family members may want to do some things individually and/or something together. Talking about it ahead of time can be helpful to get everyone’s ideas out and to make a plan. You might want to figure out a way to honor the person in your life who died, such as watching one of their favorite movies, eating their favorite foods, or visiting a familiar place. It might mean attending graduation and having a picture of that person in your pocket. You might decide to start a new tradition with your family if that feels more comfortable to you. At the same time, stay flexible enough to change your plans if they don’t feel right to you or your family on the actual day.
Above all, we encourage you to take care of yourself, listen to your feelings, and trust that you will mark these holidays and events in a way that you and your family need to at the time.