Those Darn Firsts:First Birthday, First Anniversary, First Holiday Without Your Loved One

As a person in the grief and loss field, I know intellectually the first year is the most challenging.  Plan ahead for those firsts you know are likely to trigger you – I KNOW this.  The first year starts with the hard work of grieving and getting through each day.  Then my grief moved to the bargaining and denial stage for a while.  Lastly, there’s the slow acceptance of, OK this is real and I get it, now what do I do…part of putting back together your life with all of the pieces stage.  Some of us cycle through those feelings or skip some.  That’s normal too.  Each grief experience is unique I honor and respect that.  The journey through the firsts – first Mother’s Day, first birthday, first anniversary, first holiday – those firsts are hard.  Let’s just respect and acknowledge this fact.

This grief experience of my mother’s death last fall has been so very different than my husband’s death for so many reasons.  Mom’s was preceded by a prolonged illness and gradual decline vs. the sudden trauma of loosing Kris.  I was able to do a lot of pre-grieving (anticipatory) grief before mom died and have had a less gut wrenching grief journey.  However, this summer has the birthday months.  Augh…  I used to LOVE summer and have total bliss and happiness during summer.  Now there’s a bleak spot in summer.  I get summer doldrums – yuck.  There’s the sadness of Kris’s birthday in June but there’s the joy of my youngest son’s birthday the week before.  That up and down cycle is on year seven and it’s mostly OK now.  It sure wasn’t OK at first.  Now, there’s the added sadness of mom’s birthday the end of July, but there’s the happiness of my stepson’s birthday too.  I find myself sad and happy moving between the feelings back and forth with each of these birthdays.  How does a human mind wrap itself around these polar opposite feelings and not feel or act bi-polar?  What do I feel?  It’s difficult to describe and wrap my head and heart around it.  I will attempt a description of what I’m feeling and going through – maybe my journey will be of comfort or help to you or a loved one.

So here I am again with one more of those darn firsts.  Those stupid reminder emails of – hurry up and get mom’s favorite flowers, yellow roses, are on sale and keep coming in my inbox.  I dread seeing them.  I know I need to unsubscribe and update my preferences.  It’s a grief thing, can’t quite find the time or energy to deal with that at the moment.  I’m not quite ready to forget mom’s birthday either.  On one hand, I’d like to forget but I know I’ll likely never forget.  I have been sending mom yellow roses for as long as I had income to send her favorite flowers.  I loved doing it and surprising her.  Hmm, I am not sure how she could have been so surprised since I did it every year but, she always raved over them.  I loved spoiling her in a way she wouldn’t spoil herself.  I loved doing something just for her on her special day.  Now there’s no mom to send flowers on her birthday – that makes me sad and I miss her.  Darn Grief and those Darn Firsts…

Intellectually I KNOW what to do – heck I coach people and facilitate grief groups on this subject.  Plan for those days and special days when you know it’s likely to hit.  Plan ahead and prepare yourself.  I KNOW what to do –  go get some tissues, take care of yourself, do some self-care, journal, etc.  There’s a gap sometimes between knowing and doing.  Doing it means I acknowledge that I’m still grieving.  I’d prefer to be done with grief but I know I’m not.  You never really are – you just move forward.  Grief will NOT be denied.  It will show up.  If you try to stuff it – be warned it will come out.  If you aren’t careful it will swamp you when you least expect it.  You might leak tears at odd times, get angry over “small” things, be irritable, and not quite know why.  Worse you might have an emotional outbreak at a very inopportune time.  It is better to plan ahead. I KNOW that…BUT…

Ironically, I’ve tried to stuff this first – mom’s birthday first.  It’s mom’s birthday coming up, yup got it, knew it was the last one last year, no time to get too weepy, trudge forward, I’ve acknowledged it, I’m good – I’ve got this – all of that is going through my mind.  I’ve been planning that this might be the last one for over five years.  I KNEW last year was really likely to be the last.  I should be OK right?  I’ve been on vacations, busy with work, and traveling with family.  I sure don’t want to be the weepy one or garner unwanted attention and I’m good, really I’m OK – right?  Well I had to re-examine this as a fact.  I’m OK but not good.  I need to take some time and process the fact I miss my mother.  I am sad, I miss mom, and there’s more grief to process – erg.  I know I cannot stuff it or pretend I’m OK.  I have to process and allow this grief.  Augh, I just want to be through this grief journey.  However, I know you cannot rush this process.

What have I done to plan, prepare, and acknowledge mom’s birthday?  I have taken the time to allow the feelings, cry, be sad, get some extra rest, journal and schedule some self-care.  I have written this blog as a means of journaling and letting you know it’s OK to be sad on a first, or around a loved one’s birthday.  It’s not like you ever forget.  I’m feeling better after writing this blog and I know to take each day as it comes, it is a gift.

Some additional ideas for what you could do: Do something to honor your loved one if you are moved to.  Write them a letter, write some poetry, read some poetry, go on a walk, call a friend, pastor, spirit leader, or family member, schedule some time for self-care, celebrate their day with a cake, special food, go out for a meal and share memories or whatever might honor them.  I’ve included some resources below that you might find helpful for honoring and dealing with the firsts.

If you are in your firsts after loosing a loved one my heart breaks and aches with you.  This first year can be the toughest.  Don’t feel like you have to go it alone.  There are tons of resources out there and people who are willing to listen to you and your pain. Check out the resources below and my resources page.

What have you done to honor or celebrate a deceased loved one’s birthday?  How have you dealt with the firsts?  I’d love to hear from you and learn more.  Did you find this a useful or thought provoking topic?  Click like, share, or comment please.  Perhaps someone you know could use this information, please share.

Reprinted with permission from Teresa’s professional coaching site Bold Fulfilled Life Coach “Those Darn Firsts”