How to cope with grief firsts after losing a loved one

Kate Beckinsale, pictured, is coping with the grief process of losing her stepfather. (Getty Images)
Kate Beckinsale has been sharing the grief process after losing her stepfather earlier this year. (Getty Images)

Kate Beckinsale has been coping with a grief milestone as she marks her stepdad's first birthday following his death earlier this year after a "brief period of illness".

The Underworld actor, 50, shared some touching words ion Instagram about her stepfather Roy Battersby on what would have been his birthday and confessed she can’t face taking down her Christmas trees for fear of losing the memory of their final weeks together.

Sharing several images of her late stepfather, including one of him celebrating his last birthday, Beckinsale also posted a picture of her seemingly sitting surrounded by still-up Christmas decorations.

"The birthday we didn’t know was your last," she captioned the images. "There will be no FaceTime today. In the middle of my night, watching you open your presents. No one received gifts with more joy."

She went on to give an update on how she's been impacted by her grief.

"I can’t take my Christmas trees down," she explains. "They were the last Christmas trees I’ll decorate with you in the world. This birthday/not birthday. Christmas/not Christmas. In April. Oh Roy, Oh God I miss you," she finished her heartbreaking post.

How to tackle the sorting process after losing a loved one

While Beckinsale seems to be struggling to put away Christmas decorations she associated with last memories of her stepfather, others battle with the sorting of possessions after the passing of a family member.

"Navigating grief is uniquely personal and something we all experience in different ways," explains Gemma Campbell, counsellor and clinical content lead at mental health provider, Kooth. "Wherever you are in your grief journey, if you are tasked with sorting out a loved one's belongings, it can evoke all sorts of different and sometimes unexpected feelings."

Campbell says how you're impacted might depend on different factors, including, where you are in your grief, the relationship you had with the person, and even who else is involved in the sorting process.

"Sorting through belongings is not just dealing with physical possessions," she continues. "It’s dealing with memories, raw emotions, future expectations, and very personal, and sometimes complicated relationships. Those things aren’t tangible, and we can’t just sift through them, so it’s hardly surprising that the sorting task is often very complex."

While there is no right or wrong formula for the potentially emotional task of sorting through personal belongings, there are some things you can consider.

Choose the right time

There is no right time to sort through a loved one's belongings; while some people want to start shortly after a death, for others this feels too soon. "Do what feels right for you," Campbell adds.

Share how you feel

Sorting can be a hugely emotional task, evoking all kinds of emotions. "Sharing how you feel can help you make sense of your emotions, get the support you need, and maybe even help you to feel less overwhelmed," Campbell says.

Seek support

If you’re finding the process especially difficult, getting the help you need from a trusted friend, or family member might be comforting. "Having support around you can be a great source of comfort, and distraction during a difficult time in general, not just when you’re sorting through belongings," Campbell adds.

Be mindful of others involved

If you are sorting through belongings with other people rather than being solely responsible, be mindful that you might all have different feelings, motivations, and ways of coping. "Discussing a plan beforehand might be useful, so you can gently discuss any potential challenges," Campbell says. "It also ensures that everyone feels included, and that they have a part to play."

Make a plan

If it’s helpful, make a plan of action. "If there’s a lot of things to go through, maybe going through one box at a time might feel more manageable," Campbell suggests. "Whether it’s going through the least sentimental items, or dedicating a specific time to the task, do what feels right for you."

Managing grief firsts

As Beckinsale's posts highlight dealing with ‘firsts’ after someone has died can be intensely emotional and sometimes hugely unexpected.

"Whether it’s a first anniversary after a loved one’s death, Christmas, birthday, special occasion, or even something less obvious like visiting a familiar place you associate with them, managing firsts can be tough," Campbell explains.

To help you get through, ask yourself:

How do I feel?

Exploring your feelings can help you make sense of them and help you feel less overwhelmed. "You might want to talk to someone, write your feelings down, or even express them creatively by drawing, painting or making music," Campbell suggests.

What’s my plan?

Thinking about what you want to do to mark the occasion can bring great comfort, a sense of stability, and help you do something that feels right for you. "Arranging a dinner or gathering, wearing a particular colour, or visiting a grave or special place are just some ways you can consider the date ahead of time," Campbell advises. "If the occasion is a particular time of year you might want to keep a tradition going such as decorating a Christmas tree, or even adapting old traditions to make new ones."

Who do I need?

You may want to be in your own company, or you might want to be around those who comfort, distract, or make you feel safe and secure.

Managing firsts for everyone

If you’re a family or group dealing with grief, it’s useful to be mindful that often there are firsts for everyone involved aside from the most obvious occasions. "For example, someone who has lost their partner might be managing first outings, or a first time being home alone, whereas an adult child in the same family might be managing a totally different set of ‘firsts’," Campbell explains. "Being aware of the different firsts that those around you might be experiencing can help you to be compassionate, aware, and more supportive of each other where it feels right."

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