Facing Firsts

January 14, 2020 By Emilie Smith, LPC

With the New Year in front of us I am mindful of “Firsts”. Walking the path of grief “firsts” can become roadblocks or potholes on our journey. Being prepared helps. Being aware that “firsts” includes anniversaries of the date your loved one left, or of events that come up where they were a significant part and will be missed. Many things like:

  1. First week since they left
  2. First month
  3. First year, the anniversary of their leaving
  4. First time their birthday comes and they are not here
  5. First holiday – New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas
  6. Other firsts that are particular to you, your family, or them

There are also the firsts that were part of your dreams and expectations, those things that may have gone unspoken, simply part of the fabric of your lives that you expected one day would be there:

  • First Date
  • Graduation
  • Engagement and marriage
  • Birth of children or grandchildren
  • Retirement
  • Growing old together

Grief isn’t linear. It isn’t a matter of first this, then this, and finally that and you’re done. It’s a messy tangle of ups and downs, and circles. And sometimes when we least expect it we are triggered by something and we feel our loss all over again. This is normal and natural, and not fun. It’s not a setback. It’s a temporary revisit of your grief.

So what can you do to get through these firsts? Preparation is important, so how can you prepare?

Here are some tips that can be helpful:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge that you will feel something. Don’t be blindsided. Give yourself permission to feel, and do what works for you. You may be feeling out of sorts a month ahead after feeling pretty good. That’s normal. Grant yourself grace and space to take care of yourself.
  2. Don’t be afraid of the Firsts coming your way. Yes, you may feel something. But never forget, you have survived their loss even when you thought you couldn’t, you can survive these milestones. See these as another way to honor them, and your love and connection to them. If your love for them was something to be celebrated while they were here, it’s something to celebrate when they’re not.
  3. Make a list of firsts that you know will be coming up, or put a reminder on your phone a month out, or a week out. Firsts that come in the first year can affect you a month or more ahead of the actual date, like their birthday, or a holiday. Normally you would be already thinking about how you were going to celebrate, what gift you were going to give, etc. Buying the card and inviting guests. So now think about how you can still celebrate them. One person did nothing on the first birthday except stay home in their jammies and watch old movies. Another person planned a party with friends and family, baked their favorite dessert or meal and told stories about the loved one, with the goal to honor them. Do what works for you. There is no right or wrong.
  4. If you aren’t keeping a journal, this might be a good time to start. Take a few minutes and write out your feelings and thoughts. Journal what you are doing, and journal what you did. Journal how you feel. Journal a letter to them.
  5. Create a memory box for your journal, for momentoes, and things that make you happy when you think of the one who is gone. Add to it for each First if you like. Or make a memory book where you attach things that mean something to you.

The first year is hard, but it is doable. It’s a journey that you are on and you can move through, one breath at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time, one First at a time.