Jane, our Bereaved Parent Support Coordinator, reflects on the difficulty of facing a new year without your child.

People who are bereaved know that certain dates are difficult – birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s or Father’s Day.

But one date which took us by surprise after we lost our son Ben was New Year’s Eve. I remember midnight on that first New Year’s Eve, when people turned to those they love to say, ‘Happy New Year!’ I turned to my husband and wept – how could it be a Happy New Year when Ben was not there to share it? Ben had been with us in 2003 but would not be there in 2004. As the new year began it felt like I was leaving him behind, somewhere in the past, and I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted to take him with me into the future, into whatever lay ahead. How could I leave him behind in 2003? The new year stretched ahead of me in its emptiness – a year without Ben in it. How could this new year possibly be ‘happy’?

I think my fear of ‘leaving him behind’, which was very real, is a very common one after the loss of a child. People have sometimes said to me that they don’t want to stop feeling the pain of loss, because somehow not feeling the pain seems like leaving the child behind. But I don’t think it needs to be like this. It is possible to leave the acute pain of devastating loss while carrying our child forward with us into this coming new year and every year beyond. It doesn’t mean that we are leaving the loss behind; no, we are leaving the acute paralysing pain behind and carrying our loss forward in a different way. I think it means that our loss becomes a part of us instead of defining all of us – as we involve our child in our lives going forward and we find a new normal.

New Year’s Eve seems to be a transition moment – people make resolutions of change, deciding to leave the past behind and look forward instead, which is why it is so hard for the bereaved. We don’t want change, we want back what we had; we don’t want to leave the past and we don’t want to look forward as it is just too bleak and scary. These seem to combine to make New Year’s Eve a very tricky, and very long, day to negotiate as a bereaved parent.

We can however help ourselves with a few simple strategies. They won’t take away that pain or sense of panic but can help us to manage it:

  • Don’t put yourself under any pressure to celebrate the new year or to set yourself resolutions. Coping with life day by day is enough of a challenge.
  • Go to bed early rather than staying up till midnight; it’s just another day, after all.
  • If you do stay up to see in the New Year, choose carefully who you are with. Seek out those who can be trusted to respect and even share your sadness and take their lead from you.
  • Avoid using the words ‘Happy New Year’.
  • Give yourself permission to look after yourself in the new year, maybe by ring-fencing some time for self-care.
  • Book something in the diary which you can begin to look forward to – it could be as simple as coffee with a friend or as brave as a weekend away. You can always cancel if you don’t feel you can manage it, but having it in the diary can be a positive thing.
  • Reframe your thinking – you are not leaving them behind or getting over them but finding a place for them in your life going forward.

So how can we take our child forward with us into a new year? Everyone will do this differently, but one way is to continue to talk about them and include them in our conversations. If we as parents do this, then it gives other people permission to do so and it establishes a pattern for the future. It is so wonderful when someone else shares a memory of Ben, which I didn’t know before, just in their conversation. For me, talking about him casually and naturally is one of the best ways we take him forward with us. He is a part of our today, not just a part of our yesterday and will be part of our tomorrow as time goes on, from new year to new year.

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