Spring Holidays May Trigger Grief

Our springtime spiritual holidays and rituals hold memories and significance which enriches our lives. But they may also be difficult waters to navigate following the loss of a loved one.  Just as Thanksgiving or other holidays harken traditions of gathering with family and friends, these spring holidays often hold the same expectations of togetherness.

People in grief react differently to these holiday triggers, just as any other trigger.  Some people find great comfort in gathering with others and reminiscing.  One woman found the Stages of the Cross of Good Friday to offer her the opportunity to openly grief, a publicly acceptable place to be distressed.  For this grieving mother, the spiritual practices provided affirmation for her feelings and an accepted outlet for her mourning.  Others find such holidays excruciating, but often without the understanding of those around them.

Holiday Triggers are Normal

After the loss of my daughter, I found Good Friday to bring back images of my daughter’s suffering, which was unbearable.  Easter was also so difficult to navigate. Here was a joyous celebration in my faith, while I was wracked with pain. The failure of those around us to understand such feelings augments the feelings of self-doubt and loneliness.

Here’s what I want you to know:  you are “normal” and all reactions to these holidays or any holiday is appropriate.  Experiencing distress with religious rituals is appropriate, regardless of whether anyone else understands.  Your feelings are valid and are not a reflection of the strength of your faith or dedication to your beliefs.

On the contrary, both Passover and Easter affirm the role of suffering in this life.  Only you can know what is best for you to do to comfort yourself in the midst of grief.  We all have different ways of healing with different timetables. Honor your feelings and follow your instincts.  If you need to change your rituals or practices for a few years or for many years, that’s fine.  Do whatever soothes your heart.

Honoring and Helping Others

Two strategies that have been helpful to me at any time of year: honoring my loved one and helping someone else.  When I turn a holiday into a remembrance of my daughter, I feel a comfort in having her with me again in another way.  For Easter, I decorated an Egg for her and displayed it. Seeing her name visible in a different way was satisfying.

Consider creating something for your loved one: a painted rock, a poster, or even just their name or photo somewhere on display. One woman made a collage of magazine cut-outs of common quotes or sayings of her late husband.  She felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction putting these memories in a tangible way.

For the first few years following the loss of my daughter, there was no way to avoid the distress at Easter. So, we attended my sister’s church concerts, which made her very happy.  Although we were in pain, we at least made someone else’s holiday more joyful. Sometimes the best way to move through pain is to help someone else.  By giving to others, we are softly comforted ourselves.

As you navigate your spring holidays and rituals, please know your feelings are appropriate and a tribute to your loved one. Listen to your inner voice and do whatever feels right to you. My heart goes out to all who have suffered loss.

Dr. Janice Bell Meisenhelder is author of Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child. Reach her at www.MBMPublishers.com,

From the author of  Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child: Meisenhelder, Janice Bell: 9780979651120: Amazon.com: Books

Read more from Janice at Valentine’s Day Triggers Mother’s Grief – Open to Hope

Janice Bell Meisenhelder

After the loss of her 19-year-old daughter to cancer, Dr. Janice Bell Meisenhelder turned her grief work towards helping others. She used her insight as a nurse, her experience with peer counseling of other bereaved mothers, and her knowledge of the research to compose a gentle guide with practical tips for healing: Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child. Based on scientific evidence as well as personal experience, this book provides comforting help to all bereaved mothers in short, digestible bites in chronological order according to need by topic. It has received rave reviews from leaders of The Compassionate Friends chapters. Dr. Meisenhelder holds a Doctor of Nursing Science from Boston University. Her clinical nursing practice was at Massachusetts General Hospital in medical-surgical, intensive care and oncology. With extensive experience in nursing education, she is currently a professor of nursing at Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts, teaching at both the RN-BSN and Graduate Level nursing courses. Dr. Meisenhelder has published thirty-six articles in professional and scholarly journals, including topics on coping as well as clinical guidelines for working with bereaved parents in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Dr. Meisenhelder currently resides near Boston, MA with her husband. She has one surviving daughter.

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