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Birthdays, Christmas and More: How to Survive the First Year without a Loved One

June 15th, 2023

The days and weeks after the loss of a loved one are often met with a whirlwind of support and activity. Friends and family rally with condolences, phone calls, casseroles and other gestures of support. And throughout it all, services must be planned. But then the activity subsides, and the grieving process often becomes lonelier and more intense, especially on milestone dates like birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

Celebrations that were once a joyous occasion can be filled with a mixture of grief, sadness, and longing. While there is no easy way to erase this pain, there are proven coping tools to navigate this first year of milestones, and find joy and light along the way.

Recognize Your Feelings

The first step to healing is recognizing and validating your feelings. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions without putting on a “brave face” for others. You may experience anger, sadness, grief or even relief, especially during birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. These are all normal feelings and acknowledging them will help you heal. Be true to yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Be alone when you need to be alone as you remember them; reach out to others when you need support or distractions.

Build New Traditions

Though the absence of your loved one will forever be felt, consider creating new traditions to honor their memory and celebrate their life. If you always enjoyed Thanksgiving at their home, for example, consider spending the day hiking along a beautiful, scenic trail or volunteering at a food bank. You can prepare their favorite meal on their birthday or host a small birthday gathering in their honor. During the holiday season, raise a toast at a special meal for them, and place their stocking somewhere special. You can also donate to a charity in their name, or spend a wedding anniversary visiting a special place where you shared good memories.

Make their memory come to life in ways that you can see, touch, taste and feel. You’ll be reminded of all the amazing times you shared while keeping their memory alive.

Gift Suggestion:

  • Personalize a custom ornament in their memory, and hang it on the best spot on the Christmas tree.

Visit a Loved One’s Resting Place

Just because they’re gone doesn’t mean you can’t visit them. On the days you are really missing a loved one, or to mark a special occasion, freshen up their final resting spot with flowers. Tell them about your day, share all that’s new, and raise a toast or enjoy a bite as you remember time spent together. If their final resting spot isn’t accessible, consider creating a memorial garden in their memory, or simply visit a favorite place where you can feel them smiling down from heaven.

Looking for ideas to spruce up the grave of a loved one? Here are some meaningful ways to add beauty to a final resting spot, and they all last longer than flowers.

Suggestions for Graveside Decor:

  • Choose a beautiful sympathy flag personalized just for them.
  • Make a custom memorial stone that includes their name, photo and even a favorite verse, quote or music lyric.
  • Thoughtfully inscribe a solar light to illuminate the grave at night.

Create a Keepsake with Their Photo

So many memories! Now what to do with them? Consider wrapping yourself up in the good times you shared by surrounding yourself with something extra special to remind you of them, right in your own home.

Gift Suggestions:

Navigating the first year without your loved one can be challenging, but there is also so much beauty to be found along the journey to healing. Acknowledge and accept your grief, create new traditions, reach out to others for support, prioritize self-care, and see a professional for help if needed. Be open to new opportunities and new adventures, and know they’ll be right there supporting you, someway, somehow, along the way.

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