Manage Grief, Trauma, and Loss on July 4th
After a spring of torrential rain, hailstorms, and tornados, summer is finally here with hot days, refreshing dips in the pool, and backyard BBQs.
As a kid, I loved getting together with my cousins and playing baseball on the field adjacent to our home. It was also a special day because it is my niece’s birthday. When I was married, getting together with the neighbors was a big deal. Families would gather in the cul-de-sac and set off fireworks. My ex-husband loved getting the biggest fireworks and would light them with my son. There are a lot of good memories.
However, July 4th, like any other holiday, can trigger painful reminders, reminders of a traumatic experience such as the absence of a loved one, war, domestic violence, natural disasters, and verbal abuse.
My son loved the 4th of July. Weeks and weeks before, he would ask, is it today? Can we do fireworks? The first year after he died, I cried alone at home. I told myself that my son should be shooting off fireworks. It was a sad and lonely night.
I experienced trauma from the suicide death of my son, yet I am fortunate that it did not worsen. For others, it can become more problematic.
Symptoms of trauma can be both emotional and physical. Some of the emotional responses to trauma can be any or a combination of the following:
Psychological Symptoms of Trauma
Changes in behavior and attitude
Physical Symptoms of Trauma
Increased heart rate
If you have experienced a traumatic event, here are some things to remember to help you get through July 4th or any important day.
In my book, Survive Your Child’s Suicide: How to Move from Grief to Healing, I share that acceptance of your loss, circumstances or situation is critically important to help reduce the impact. You cannot change your experience. Once it has happened, there is no taking it back, no matter how hard you try. Facts do not change. You can change how you respond to what has happened.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel the Pain
Give yourself permission to grieve and acknowledge what has happened. Stuffing it, denying it, or shoving it to the side will not make it go away. It will only prolong the pain and disrupt your ability to heal. If you choose to attend an event or gathering and your emotions surface, face it and go through it. Peace and joy await you on the other side.
Do Something New
You might consider doing something different. The holiday is now different because of what you have experienced, it will never be the same. The apple cart is already turned over so why not upright it with a new tradition? Your tradition might be entirely new, something you’ve never done before, or a little new mixed in with the old.
Holidays and special days come at the same time every year. This makes it easy to plan ahead. The anticipation can sometimes be worse than the actual holiday. Plan what you will do on the holiday whether it be creating a new memory, or not, simply plan what you will do. This helps prevent being alone, caught off guard, and expecting others to reach out. In today’s culture, many people do not know how to help someone going through a tough season. Be a self-advocate and take charge of what you will do on the holiday.
Be Kind to Yourself
Loss and trauma can take a toll on your body. Be sure to take care of yourself. Do things that you enjoy and love. Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water. Get outdoors. Take a hot bath. Journal. Get a massage. Read a book. Whatever you do, make it something you enjoy and can look forward to doing.
After nearly 5 years since my son died, I want you to know that by practicing these simple yet effective tools I see the light and my life is fulfilling. Your life has been forever changed. You will get through this season. Peace, joy, and happiness are waiting for you – reach out and get them. You deserve them.