As the three year anniversary of Oliver's due date approaches, I've been reflecting on the unpredictability of grief and the significance of anniversaries.
It doesn't matter what kind of loss -- the death of a loved one (person, pet, business, dream, etc.), a trauma or accident or a medical diagnosis -- there will be anniversaries, markers, triggers and memories (sometimes even physical "body" memories) that will come, and some will ask to be honored or acknowledged.
Grief and loss are a part of every life. These are a natural part of being human.
However, our culture does not acknowledge the profound impact of these events, and definitely does not provide the space for these types of losses to be openly discussed or shared.
In fact, we are often urged, subtly or overtly, to deal with the loss privately and swiftly, and get back to life as though nothing has changed.
Tenfold when we're experiencing emotions around an anniversary of something that happened maybe years ago; others may not understand, probably won't know what do or say or how to help support you.
This is a two-part support guide for navigating hard anniversaries and important loss dates in your life.
Foremost, be EXtra gentle and kind with yourself around Anniversary time.
Maybe you feel nothing. That's ok.
Maybe you forget (see Forgetting and Remembering in Part II). That's ok.
Maybe you cry and rage (see Grief Emotions in Part II). That's ok.
If you know a particular marker is a hard time for you, go slow, be gentle, take care. Some years are harder than others, some losses are harder than others, so many things are out of your control.
What you do have agency over is how you treat yourself through it all.
Let go of any unkind story about being wimpy or it shouldn't bother you after all this time or you have to be strong. Wash that off your hands and watch it flow down the drain.
Life carries on, for sure, and when you're able, treat yourself with the tenderness you would grant a friend.
Grief can jump out from behind the bushes at any time. You know this. I call it The Ambush. Your wedding song comes on in the grocery store, you smell fresh vanilla bean, someone serves rhubarb pie at a pool party, and suddenly you are teleported to another world, another lifetime. You might want to flee, you might freeze, you might be overcome with emotion.
I was ambushed this winter while walking the dog through the neighborhood after dark and seeing a man through the window reading to his young son. I cried the whole way home and then some.
You'll probably be more sensitive to Ambushes around anniversary times. You might tell yourself your reaction is unwarranted given the event that triggered it. Phooey on that. In addition to your memories and emotions about your loss, your body and your senses remember the light, the season, the scents of that time of year. As you spiral past these dates again and again, parts of your brain are lighting up, emotions are stirred and set in motion. Allow this to flow as best you can and give yourself what you need in the moment.
Not all anniversaries will feel significant. I remember most of the dates related to the pregnancy down to appointment dates, yet the only two dates I plan around are the day he died and the day he was supposed to be born. You get to decide what dates feel important to you and you don't have to justify why.
It's also possible that what is important to you or touches you as the years go by will change. You might also be Ambushed by a date that you didn't think was a big deal, but triggers a memory that is tender. Give yourself so much love when this happens.
Especially if you are in your first year or two of anniversaries (or if you have a lot of Ambushes), it might be interesting to know that often the anticipation of the anniversary is a lot harder than the day itself. I found this to be true and upon doing some reading and research, found out that it's common. The lead up, the dread, the reliving of those "last" whatevers can be consuming, stressful and exhausting. When The Day comes, maybe all our emotion is spent, who knows -- often it is just not as brutally hard as we thought it would be, or at least not as hard as the days leading up to it. That's not a promise, just a possibility.
Speaking of years one and two... many people find year two harder than year one. I think mostly this speaks to the unpredictability of grief and reminds us to let go of expecting it to go any particular way. Maybe anniversary #14 is the hardest of all. We just take it as it comes.
What else is going on?
How we approach and process an anniversary has a lot to do with what else is going on in our lives. Have you had time to care for yourself lately? Do you have other heavy things happening right now? Even how you slept the night before the date can affect how stable or fluid you feel. Everything affects everything. Again, unpredictable = yes; expectations = no.
Part II of the anniversary guide includes ideas on ritual and ceremony, how to use anniversaries for reflection, a reminder about what emotions are valid in grief and why to share your anniversaries with others.
Read Part II here.