Handling Holidays and Special Anniversaries with Grieving Children
By Robin Fiorelli
Holidays and special anniversaries can be difficult for grieving children, especially during the first year. Holidays and anniversaries serve both as a reminder of the loss and of pleasant memories of the deceased. It sometimes is difficult for children to watch others enjoy the holiday, when for them it brings up the void they feel. The anticipation of the holiday, in fact, often can be worse than the holiday itself.
It is important to let a bereaved child know in advance that he or she might experience some painful feelings during the holiday or anniversary. It also is helpful to plan in advance with the child ways to make these events more tolerable. Holiday rituals that included the loved one could be altered and new rituals developed.
Mother's Day and Father's Day can be particularly difficult for a child who has lost a parent. The child may choose a “substitute mother” to take to a Mother's Day celebration, for example. The child also may choose to commemorate the loss by visiting the cemetery or visiting a special place which evokes positive memories of the parent.
As the first anniversary of the death approaches, children often find themselves intensely reliving the last days of their loved one's life. Children often need extra reassurance and support during this first anniversary. It also is important that the adults in their life share their own feelings about the anniversary and their own memories about the deceased.
Children often choose to celebrate the birthday of their deceased loved one. They might make a birthday gift for their deceased loved one, or bake a cake and light birthday candles. The celebration could include sharing memories about past birthdays with their loved one. A visit to the cemetery might be a special way to allow a child to say Happy Birthday to his or her deceased loved one. Other holidays could be commemorated in the same way—by giving gifts, sharing memories of the deceased and developing special rituals.