Getting through the year of firsts after a loved one has passed is a painful journey and one which we all dread. You know that you are going to have to face birthdays, holidays and other anniversaries for the first time without your loved one, and the thought of it makes your heart feel like it has dropped to the floor.

There is no beating around the bush; it is going to be hard. Although each person may handle death and grief differently, your grief will rise again, your tears will flow, and some anger may even reignite. This is all part of the grieving process. As your life carries on without your loved one, unbidden memories will bring back the sadness, as will a particular song. When you prepare a special meal that your loved one enjoyed or visit a place that you last visited with them, the grief will hit you again.

Getting over their death and getting through it are two different things. You will never truly get over their death – you will, however, learn to live your life differently without them by your side. Coping with the year of firsts after their death is part of getting through their passing. So, where do you start to learn how to manage with the year of firsts?

Be Kind To Yourself

Acknowledge that some days are going to be worse than others. If you need to cry, do it – your body will welcome the release of the emotional stress that you are feeling. Tears of grief will contribute to your healing. However, sometimes it is also okay not to cry. Don’t put pressure on yourself by telling yourself to pull it all together. Allow yourself to grieve again and again in your own way and own time.

Save Your Energy

For at least the first two or so years after your loved one’s passing, you may feel that you don’t have the energy to socialise. While it is important not to isolate yourself from others forever, take the time you need – especially in the first year. Life will slowly return to normal. If you don’t feel like socialising, simply send a short message or even make a call to friends and family. People will be worried about you and will want to know that you are okay. Maintain your contacts; it doesn’t have to be face-to-face until you are ready to socialise again.

Bond as a Family

Use the anniversary of firsts to come together as a family, especially during holidays. Strength and healing can be found when a family comes together and share memories of a loved one. These memories will start to ease some of the deep grief inside all of you. By creating an open channel of communication with family members, you will soon realise that you are not alone in your grief. Sharing the pain that you are feeling with each other is cathartic.

Another essential aspect to bear in mind is that, on your death, your assets and bank accounts will most likely be frozen until your estate has been finalised. This means that the responsibility lies with your family to take care of your funeral costs, as well as your monthly personal finances in the interim.

If there are any minor children left behind, these young ones will also need to be cared for and taken care of financially until matters are settled. Click here to read A Guide for Families Wrapping up a Deceased Estate by Sonja Smith.

Friendships May Change

Unfortunately, you may find that your friendships change over this time. Mutual friends who knew both you and your loved one may slowly drift away. Remember that some people find death unsettling and do not know how to deal with it. On the positive side, new friends will come into this season of your life, and they will bring laughter, joy and new memories, all of which will slowly nudge you out of your despair into living a full life again.

Find Comfort in Your Belief System

A belief system or religion, if you have one, is valuable for inspiring hope and bringing calm in your darkest hour of need. Whatever you may believe, holding on to the hope of an afterlife can bring you much comfort.

Let Go of Guilt

This is particularly relevant if you have been a caregiver to your loved one who had a terminal illness. You may feel a level of relief when your loved one passes, and this is perfectly natural. Remember that you have been the one who saw them at their worst, day in and day out. You witnessed their health deteriorate and their

suffering. Each day you probably wondered, sometimes even wished, if this would be their last day of suffering. You took on the burden of a caregiver in a world where people are so concerned about the one who is dying, they often forget about the mental, physical and emotional toll that caregiving takes.

Your emotional state will be fragile, even if you don’t realise it. This is why you may feel relief on their passing. Don’t feel guilty about this and always remember that your loved one is no longer suffering. Find peace in their freedom from pain and recognise that the relief you are feeling is natural.

Furthermore, besides grieving the loss of your loved one, you may also mourn the loss of being a caregiver. You will find an overwhelming emptiness by not being able to fulfill the role of carer anymore… It is quite normal under the circumstances and in fact this can be regarded as a double loss. Be kind to yourself…

When Grief Seems to Last Forever

The time frame for the grieving process differs from person to person, but the first two years will be the toughest. However, if you suspect that your grief is taking too long to subside naturally and sufficiently for you to cope with life again, it may well be time to consider making contact with a Grief Support Counsellor to help

you gain some perspective and direction from a professional. There is nothing wrong asking for help in a situation like this, since complicated grief, left untreated, can lead to several mental health problems in the long-term.

Also seek help when you encounter disenfranchised grief.  Commonly known as hidden grief or sorrow, disenfranchised refers to any grief that goes unacknowledged or unvalidated by social norms. This kind of grief is often minimized or not understood by others, which makes it particularly hard to process and work through. A perfect example is the loss of an ex-spouse. Read more

As unimaginable as it may feel now, you will not be stuck in your full-blown grief forever, and you will make it through the year of firsts. Eventually, you will be able to enjoy life again. So here’s a thought to ponder on: When is the right time to take off your wedding ring after losing a spouse? We will touch on that question in another blog.

Remember too that grief is a process – a never-ending journey. That doesn’t mean that you must sit back and wait for stages of grief to ‘happen’ to you. Instead, tackle the grief tasks and work through them actively. You may never reach a point in time when you stop missing your loved one or shedding a tear for them from time to time, but that’s okay.

Tears are simply an expression of your overwhelming love for someone close to your heart.

 Visit Sonja Smith Elite Funeral Group website here for more resources on dealing with grief.