Fall brings up happy memories for so many people with thoughts of back to school and the crispness in the air reminding us of the winter holidays just around the corner. But for many people grieving the loss of a parent, Fall can be a slow slide into the hardest time of the year.
Losing a parent or close family member is a common reason to begin therapy. In the early stages of grieving, it can be helpful to have a space to talk and cry, with a steady supply of tissues. As the months go on, and life returns to somewhat normal, therapy can hold the space for your grief that the rest of your life doesn’t. And that includes space to figure out what to do on those all-important reminder days: birthdays, deathiversaries, and holidays.
On these days, there’s usually an impulse to do something to memorialize the person you’ve lost, alone or with family and friends. But grief can easily stymie the motivation to plan, organize, or schedule. For frank conversation and tips about grieving, I usually head to Modern Loss. It’s full of stories submitted by writers who’ve lived through loss, and discuss both the practicalities and vagaries of the grieving process with equal gravity and humor.
I was moved by writer Rob Kutner’s suggestion to embrace an upcoming Father’s Day by engaging in “Random Acts of Dadness:” performing the same qualities and quirks he misses about his father. To try this yourself, make a list of things you remember about your loved one (anything is fair game) and find ways to incorporate it into your day. Kutner’s ideas range from sending something back at a restaurant, to back rubs, to giving money to needy strangers.
Another tip is to have the day alone you’d typically have with your parent. Often, we are so consumed by our own feelings of sadness and loss, we lose sight of what our loved one would want for us. I’d wager that for most of us that doesn’t include moping around despondently. Kate Spencer asked herself “WWYMWYTDOMD? (that’s What Would Your Mom Want You To Do On Mother’s Day)” and then did the same activities she would have done with her mother. Grab a friend, sibling, partner, or child if you don’t want to go it alone.
Despite the neat package Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief has provided us, common opinion among those who have grieved (and therapists who help them) is that grief is not a linear process, and that feelings of loss can defy time and space. On days when you remember a loved one, allow yourself the right to experience your emotions fully, without judgment. Whatever comes up is fair game, and all of it makes you human. As a wise person once told me, the pain you feel is relative to amount of love you felt for the person you lost.
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