Guy Fawks night is the British equivalent of the 4th July—well almost. Fireworks certainly spill into the night skies above every town in the country. Held on the 5th November its usually a chilly night with spectators wrapped up in hats, scarves, gloves and coats, grateful for the raging bonfire that is typically the centerpiece of the night, as they huddle together, necks craning to Ahhhh and Oooooh at the pyrotechnic display of twinkling lights overhead. I remember one of these festive nights in particular. It was at a time when my mother was struggling with her battle against liver cancer. She had spent the week prior lying on the sofa slipping in and out of consciousness. I hadn’t been sure if going out for the night would be a good idea, but we had been sitting vigil by her side almost 24/7 and we really needed a break. Francis, mom’s partner was prepared to stay home, so I headed out with my younger brother to the local organized event. I spent the night trying to enjoy myself. As I looked up at the heavens I couldn’t help but wonder, “How much longer would mom be with us?” “Would she be there for Guy Fawks next year?” “What was life going to be like without her?”—each explosion sparked a new concern.

Two days later she passed silently in her sleep and my questions were quickly answered. Our world instantly turned upside down and we entered the terrifying, isolating, confusing and emotionally exhausting world that is grief. The following year I did not attend Guy Fawks night. The associations I had with this event were no longer positive; the recollection of the uncertainty and the trauma of watching mom slowly dying were too much and I knew that the deep sense of loss would only be exacerbated should I attend. My feelings were still too raw, and my emotions too unpredictable. I had learnt early on, when my 22nd birthday arrived just six weeks after mom’s funeral, that the “firsts” were always going to be rough. Days that had otherwise been cause for celebration, days when mom and I might have shopped and prepared and planned together to make the event “special” for those present. The emptiness around these festivities always re-ignited my grief; the sense of loneliness; isolation; realization that life would never be the same, forcing me to compare my life against others’ who still had their mom or someone who was going to share the event and shower them with cards, presents, cuddles, kisses and special time. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Guy Fawks and Halloween no longer held the same appeal. I found it hard to join in with the festive spirit, I struggled to feel excited, or enthused, in fact, I struggled to feel anything other than completely numb or heart-wrenching debilitating pain. Holidays were off limits. Rather than happy celebrations they had become horrific reminders of a life I once had, where my loving mother inspired and created spectacular feasts, a group of fun, loving guests, beautiful gifts or surprises and a little dose of magic. The enjoyment and happiness of others upset me. It even annoyed me and occasionally made me angry. “How can they be so insensitive, don’t they realize what I am going through?” No they didn’t.

It is extremely hard for those who are yet to encounter a loss to truly appreciate just how devastating and traumatic it is to lose a loved one. They cannot see into your head or your heart to understand the kinds of suffering you are experiencing in your grief. Oftentimes we “pretend” we are okay on these days, that we are just as excited as everyone else, when really we are saddened by the whole affair. So what can you do when holidays like Halloween are just around the corner, how can you prepare, both yourself and those around you for the effects of grief and bereavement that will inevitably affect you?

1. Expect the old demons to surface, even if it’s been years since the loss of your loved one.

2. Find a really close friend to spend the night with, someone who understands you so well they don’t have to say anything and will leave you be, if that’s what you need.

3. Don’t overstretch yourself and watch out for patterns you might have around “stuffing” your feelings, like over eating, over working, over consumption of drugs and alcohol, you will end up feeling worse if you let these impulses get the better of you.

4. Don’t let the cheer get you down. Trust that one day you too will feel festive again, and understand that for now you are healing and fragile, your enthusiasm will eventually return.

5. Create your own ritual to remember your loved one and how you shared this event together, light a candle, write a note and send it heavenwards attached to a helium balloon, get out the pictures from years past and reminisce, express how much you miss them to your friends and family.

6. Give yourself the space to grieve. The “firsts” are always difficult and even if you are well on the road to recovery they can still bring you down. Take an afternoon off work, sleep in longer, stay home or go out if you want, but try not to make plans you’ll have to cancel if you feel bad.

7. Do something extra kind for yourself. Book a steam, spa, pedicure, massage, or take a yoga or dance class. Go play golf, go surfing or spend the afternoon on your hobbies. Order food in, or go to your favorite restaurant. Be gentle with you.

8. Be prepared for the triggers. People talking about what they are doing with their mom, dad, brother or sister and expect to have your sense of loss aggravated. Don’t avoid this, but sit with it. Feel into it.

9. Spend some time reflecting on all the good things you have in your life. Give gratitude for your own life, the love that surrounds you and the people you still have to share it with.

10. A problem shared is a problem halved. Find someone who understands: a friend, family member or grief counselor who can totally empathize with your feelings and isn’t trying to get you “back to normal.” Seek out an environment where your deepest fears and pains will be gently accepted in a loving, non-judgmental way.

Author's Bio: 

Gemini Adams, British grief expert and multiple-award winning author of Your Legacy of Love: Realize the Gift in Goodbye, is also the founder of an extensive resource for end-of-life matters. She helps individuals and families to overcome and prepare for the challenges of loss and is a practicing member of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers.