Preparing for Milestones

Some ideas to help bereaved people anticipate and cope
with anniversaries and holidays


Often bereaved people find that the pain of their grief can intensify in the days leading up to and during a ‘milestone’ event such as Christmas, New Year, Mother’s or Father’s day, Birthdays and Anniversaries (of the death, the diagnosis of illness etc.).

As grief is a permanent but changing life experience these ‘milestones’ can remain challenging beyond the first year of bereavement. 

Grief is an individual experience. There aren’t set rules as to how to cope with difficult holidays or anniversaries. The following ideas won’t suit everyone, but hopefully they might prompt you to consider what you might need or want.


Hope for the best, plan for the worst – be prepared
  • Anticipating and planning for a forthcoming ‘milestone’ is a helpful thing to do; though keep in mind that some bereaved people find thinking about a significant day quite stressful

  • Consider your options carefully and if possible share your ideas with family and friends who may help you to develop a working plan – recognise that you might need to be flexible and change your plans as the day approaches
Be kind to yourself

Pace yourself, ensuring that you are getting enough sleep, rest, relaxation, exercise and healthy food – grieving and significant anniversaries and holidays can be both exhausting  and stressful

  • Monitor, and if necessary limit, your use of alcohol, stimulants such as coffee,  and ‘over the counter’ medicines, as these may increase feelings of anxiety

  • Take regular periods of ‘time-out’ to be quiet and restful

  • Give yourself permission to set realistic expectations as to what you are going to give your energy and time to – i.e. many bereaved people decide not to send cards or put up decorations  in the run up to their first Christmas

  • If you are anxious about shopping and being out in busy streets consider buying what you need on line and having it delivered – ordering early can help to lower possible worry 
Share your grief, if you can, but only with those people you trust and love
  • Allow yourself to feel and express your sadness and hurt.

  • Try to do activities with family and friends to mark special days. These may be existing traditions or new activities in memory of your loved one. These will help you to feel less alone in your grief, feel closer to the person who has died, and closer to your family and friends as you remember and share together

  • Maybe visit a special place or share photographs and memories with others - by talking about your special person you give other people permission to share their stories, which may help both them and you

  • Be mindful that others  may need to cope with their loss in different ways to yourself – some people want and need to talk about what has happened – others will want to distract themselves and avoid difficult conversations or open expressions of grief  
Honour the person who has died
  • Light a candle in their memory

  • Donate money or a special gift to a charity in your loved one’s name

  • Play favourite music, films etc.

  • Eat a meal that you loved to eat together

  • Make a memory box, perhaps with members of your family

  • Write letters to the deceased person to keep and read again in the future

  • Take out and review old photo albums

  • Wear a special item of clothing or jewellery that connects you with the person who has died

  • Make a memorial wreath

  • Visit their grave or memorial plaque, if this is possible

  • If you have children in your family spend time with them sharing stories of the person who has died
Do what is right for you – trust your instincts
  • It is OK to sometimes say ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’

  • It is OK to sometimes laugh as well as to cry

  • It is OK to dread the forthcoming holiday or anniversary, but your plan will help

  • It is OK to be sometimes private and solitary as well as being socially active – some bereaved people really want to be alone and to just get through the day the best way they can

  • It is OK to have mixed feelings about Christmas, New Year etc. – for some it can be an intolerable pressure to be jolly or act as though nothing has happened

  • It is OK to scale back any planned gatherings so that the organisation and workload is more manageable  - as a result you are less likely to feel exhausted or overwhelmed in public or family situations

  • It is OK to decide to suspend the usual traditions and celebrations and do things a little differently this time around
Delegate and ask for help
  • Ask for help from your network of family and friends. Most of the people who care about you will welcome being told how they can help you

  • Let others share the workload and the decision making
Educate yourself about grief and use your learning
  • Reading books, articles, blogs, poetry, and visiting websites (such as may help you as others have found ways to get through these difficult times and their experiences and wisdom could prove useful  - you are not alone in the experience of grief!

  • Identify and rely on your strengths and the coping strategies that have proved helpful previously during other difficult and stressful times

  • Keeping and re-reading a journal can be useful – especially when you are having bad days or facing another significant ‘milestone’

  • After the ‘milestone’ event reflect on what helped and what didn’t help, so that you can use what you have learnt in the future
Preparing for Milestones

Bereavement Service

General Information for patients, their families and friends, and members of the public

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