Holidays and special occasions (like Christmas, anniversaries or birthdays) often bring overwhelming emotions and cascades of memories for a widow.

If you don’t have a plan for how you’ll honor your grief and emotions, then these “special days” will ambush you. Without a plan, grief can attack you out of nowhere and leave you bleeding on the pavement or weeping in front of family and friends months after the death.

STRATEGY #1: Get out a calendar and mark it with the dates this month and next that could be filled with more grief than usual (like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve).

I learned to make a plan with a calendar in hand the hard way. My husband’s death anniversary came in early November. Then our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years (the anniversary of his first stroke) came racing in, one on top of the other. By January 2nd, I was exhausted.

It started with our wedding anniversary, which arrived the week after his funeral, the week before Thanksgiving. I was still in shock and had spaced on the date. My house was a mess; I was a mess, and I decided I should dust. (Why I do these things is a mystery.) Anyway, I was cleaning up my den and went to feather-dust our wedding photo when I accidentally tipped it off the mantle with the duster.

Of course, the hand-painted ceramic frame fell to the floor and broke. The tears came, as did the screams and shouts of anger that I’d done something so careless and stupid (thank God our son was at school).

When I took the pieces into the kitchen I glanced at the calendar and saw it was our wedding anniversary! How could I have forgotten? My knees buckled. I sank onto the big slabs of gray and blue tile, shaking and crying so hard I thought my bones would break. When the tears finally stopped, I curled up in a fetal position and rocked myself there for almost an hour.

The power of that uncontrollable outburst shocked me. It was a powerful encounter with the rage and sorrow that were living inside me. I decided right then and there I wouldn’t get ambushed like that again. What if our son had been home? It would have scared him to death!

So I took that to heart and made a plan for every “special occasion.” These strategic plans, which included working with my emotions, helped me stay safe and sane. My pre-planning was a wise strategy.

Pre-planning for your holidays and special occasions is so powerful I might even call it life-saving. At the very least, it will save your sanity. “Special” days have extraordinary power. Without a plan, they can, and will, drop-kick you to your knees. So get that calendar out and mark those dates.