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Navigating Anniversaries and Holidays: Tips for Survivors of Suicide Loss

Losing a loved one to suicide is an indescribable and painful experience that leaves a lasting impact on those left behind. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that each suicide impacts roughly 135 people though that may be conservative when it comes to deaths of celebrities or a student on a college campus, for example.

Anniversaries and holidays can intensify the grief, making it crucial for survivors to find healthy ways to cope during these challenging times. In this blog post, we'll explore some practical tips to help survivors navigate the complexities of grief on special occasions. 1. Acknowledge Your Emotions: It's essential to recognize and accept the range of emotions you may experience. Grief is a complex process, and anniversaries or holidays may bring forth a flood of memories and emotions. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up without judgment, understanding that it's a natural part of the healing process. During grieving, our emotional energy reaches high levels which may deplete physical energy. Be patient with yourself and your level of functionality during these peak times. It feels difficult to be limited in your ability to do daily activities the way you did before grief but it is a necessary part of the process. Remember, it is temporary.

2. Plan Ahead: Consider planning ahead for how you want to spend the day. Whether it's participating in a support group, spending time with understanding friends or family, or having a quiet day of reflection, having a plan can provide structure and help alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding the occasion.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention likely hosts a gathering in your community for the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, also known as Survivor Day. It takes place every year on the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated. Find out more here.

3. Create New Traditions: Especially during the first year after the loss of a loved one to suicide, some individuals find solace in doing something completely different for holidays. The familiar traditions may feel too painful, and the idea of forging new paths can be a source of comfort. Instead of adhering to customary practices, consider exploring alternative activities or even taking a break from typical holiday routines. This could involve traveling to a new place, volunteering for a cause that holds personal significance, or simply spending the day in quiet reflection. Grant yourself the freedom to redefine these moments based on your current emotional needs and find what brings you a sense of peace.

Image by Jeremy Kyejo/Pixabay

4. Reach Out for Support: Don't hesitate to lean on your support network. Share your feelings with friends, family, or a mental health professional who can provide a listening ear and guidance. Being in company with others who have experienced similar losses can also be immensely beneficial in the healing process.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers a program called Healing Conversations where you can be matched with someone for a one-time visit or call. The survivor you're matched with will have lost someone of the same or similar relationship as your loss and they go through a training process to do these visits. AFSP also has a listing of Survivors of Suicide Loss support groups.

Rev. Marshall works with folks one on one and additionally offers an intensive program called Befriending Your Grief After a Suicide.

5. Practice Self-Compassion: Be as kind as possible to yourself during this challenging time. Understand that grieving is a unique journey for each individual, and there is no right or wrong way to cope. Allow yourself moments of solitude, self-reflection, and self-care.

In her role as support anchor to survivors over the years, Rev. Marshall has observed that the process can look various ways. She likes to let survivors know that through self-compassion and self-awareness, each person can become an expert on their own grief process. Incidentally, one often picks up some life skills that will benefit them from years to come.

6. Limit Expectations: It's important to manage expectations for yourself and others during holidays and anniversaries. Understand that these days may not look or feel the same as they did before the loss. Give yourself permission to modify traditions or opt-out of certain events if they feel too overwhelming.

It might be a good idea to contact your friends and family ahead of time to let them know what kind of support you would like. If you don't know, you might let them know your plan to be more free-flowing in traditions. You are allowed and empowered to take it a little easy.

7. Honor Your Loved One: There are many creative ways to honor and celebrate the life of your loved one. They could involve creating a memorial, dedicating time to reminisce, or engaging in activities they enjoyed. Keeping their memory alive can be a meaningful part of the healing process. Find some ways that speak to your relationship with your loved one or their particular style. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect. The goal is to mark the occasion and express your love. Coping with suicide loss on anniversaries and holidays is a deeply personal journey. By acknowledging your emotions, planning ahead, seeking support, and honoring your loved one's memory, you can navigate these difficult times with resilience and compassion. Remember, healing is a gradual process, and it's okay to prioritize your well-being as you move forward.

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