death

Grief + Loss Anniversaries Part II

Part II of the resource guide on how to navigate loss anniversaries.

 

First, did I say I'm sorry you need this? Even if you're reading for a friend, it means someone is hurting. But that's part of the gig, right? 

So I'm glad you're here and accessing support. You are not alone.

Part I of the guide is here.
 

Part II
 

Anniversary Reflection

Use significant dates to reflect on how your life has changed in the past year. I like to journal about how my perspective on the loss has changed over time. Often looking back I see how hard I was on myself the year prior and that gives me information on how I can be more compassionate with myself going forward.

 

Gratitude?

Gratitude can live beside grief. Give thanks for everything you've learned in the past year, everything that showed up in support of you, thanks that you had the resourcefulness and resilience to make it through any rough patches.

Consider making a list of things you'd like to give energy to in the next year -- maybe a donation to a cause that's meaningful to your loss, volunteering, offering your time/talent to a neighbor or friend who is struggling. Finding a way to give reminds us that we are not broken and we have lived-wisdom to share.

 

Valid Grief Emotions

Remember that "grief" encompasses many emotions, not just sadness. Anniversary time can bring up anger and irritability, loneliness and despair, jealousy and resentment, even relief and gratitude. Whatever you feel is valid.

 

Share the date

Even if your anniversary day activity doesn't involve anyone else, it can be helpful (for you and others) if you share the coming date. No one else will have exactly the same relationship to the loss that you have, and we all have unreasonably full lives with a lot on our calendars. It's not fair to expect others to remember.

Imagine how helpful it would be for someone who loves you to hear: "Hey, I want to let you know that this anniversary is coming up and I might be a little more {emotional/solitary/angry/quiet}. I'd like to honor the day in {this} way. It would help me if you could give me a little more {space/love/massage} in the next week."

Clear, honest, vulnerable, straight-forward. Your person would be so grateful and you would get what you need! Granted, sometimes it's hard to know what you need; when you do, just state it plain and simple.

And especially if you're struggling with an anniversary, find at least one person who can lovingly support you -- a therapist, friend, support group. Don't try to go this alone, because you aren't.

 

Ritual + Ceremony

In recent Western culture, we have moved away from ritual and ceremony, yet these have been a part of cultures for thousands of years, in particular around death. You can create something formal or simple, solitary or involve others, something tangible or invisible.

On the first anniversary of the due date, I had a formal ceremony that included Greg and my support sisters. It was full of symbol and poetry and lots of tears. We buried one of the last ultrasound pictures and planted a tree. Afterward, we all ate together and shared stories and laughter. Since then, I like to be outdoors and near water on my anniversaries. Nature and the elements are reassuring and grounding for me. I don't plan much, though I know I'll do some writing and have lots of quiet time. This is a day I want to be alone, at least at this point. 

Like with everything else around grief and loss, you are making this up as you go along. Responding to the signs and your needs. Listening to your heart. Maybe it's five minutes in the morning to say a prayer and send it in the wind with your breath. Maybe you mail invitations and cook and recite a prepared tribute in front of friends and loved ones. It's yours to choose and create.

 

Forgetting and Remembering

There's no need to feel guilt if you miss or forget a grief anniversary. Life is crazy and we juggle more things than a wagon full of clowns. It doesn't have to mean anything, either (like you've "moved on", which isn't a thing anyway).

Yes, your relationship to these dates will change over time. If there are important dates you want to remember, enter them as a reoccurring event in your calendar. If you miss a date, let remembering you missed it serve as a reminder to pause and have your moment of honoring right then and there.

 

Feel free to share your ideas, resources and thoughts below. Sharing helps both the giver and the receiver to feel less alone <3

 

out of hiding

This is not a message I planned on writing. From the very beginning of this story, through the twists and turns, I intended to not draw attention to it. And yet, as time passes, I find myself compelled to share as a practice of receiving, as a hand reaching to others who feel alone or shamed in their suffering, and as a way to honor the life and loss that is so profound right now.

I have spent the last six months hiding.

Last fall I found out that I was pregnant. I was sick much of the time, which kept me away from teaching. I felt cautious knowing the risks at my age, and I wanted some privacy as I adjusted to my new and very unexpected circumstances.

The weeks turned to months, and I made it past the magic three-month mark. At one of the few classes I taught in the latter part of the year, I shared my news. No more hiding my changing body, my absence, my new role. I was excitedly rearranging my plans (inner and outer) for my life.

In the following month, I received the results of a blood test that showed that the baby had an extra chromosome. Like Noah’s Ark, we come with two of each – he had three of one. It was a terminal diagnosis.

Despite the accuracy of the blood test, my doctor emphatically urged that I wait three more weeks until I could have an amniocentesis, which would give a definitive result. This was an unbearable time of fear and dread… and more hiding.

In the middle of January I got the call. Joan Didian starts her book, The Year of Magical Thinking with the line, “Life changes in an instant.” Mine changed dramatically three times in a very short amount of time. The baby did in fact have the extra chromosome. Only one in 6000 babies with this condition make it to term, only to live a few days.

For my physical and emotional health, I decided to end the pregnancy.

It’s difficult to put words to all of this. I have been in a washing machine of depression, despair, grief and rage. This is a physical healing as well as emotional, psychic and spiritual.  It has dismantled my life in many ways. I suppose that is when we get to decide how we put things back together.

By making the brain organize words around this incomprehensible story, I can start to integrate it into the fabric of my life. It slowly begins to find its resting place.

While I do not have the big insight or list of lessons learned, this does bring up conversations I want to be a part of:

I am struck by how much silence there is around events in the human life cycle, particularly related to death. Maybe even more so around women’s health. Infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy challenges are private matters, certainly, but in keeping these experiences hidden, it’s easy to slip into shame, isolation and guilt. For me, it also dishonors the life that was and the loss I feel.

No one is exempt from loss and pain, so why pretend it doesn’t happen? (Many reasons worth investigating.)

Let’s open a dialogue about how to be with someone who is in grief. I believe we are asked to increase our capacity for discomfort and vulnerability so we can be with someone who is in deep pain. Without wanting to fix it, without making it about us.

As my therapist confirmed, most people want to talk about their loss. It’s probably the most real and constant thing in their lives. It may be awkward or uncomfortable to call attention to someone’s suffering, but to not acknowledge it is like pretending you don’t see the sign they are holding that says, “I’m hurting.”

This doesn’t always require elaborate words – a touch of the hand, a simple “I’ve been thinking of you” can be enough.

At the same time, a well-meaning “I’m glad you’re better now” or “it will get better with time” can come across as, “Please get back to ‘normal’ so we don’t have to talk about it.” Even when a person is past the acute stages of grief and having moments of enjoying life again, the loss is always right underneath the surface. You can't "remind me" of my loss -- there isn't a moment when I have forgotten.

Some things can’t be fixed. This is a foreign idea in our culture. When recovering from loss or trauma, there’s no way to shortcut or lessen the blow (at least not healthy ways). We can’t figure it out or make a plan, which the mind is so anxious to do.

There's also no "right way" to grieve. My experience may be very different than another woman's.

We eventually heal, but grief is slow to scab and always leaves a scar. It’s also cyclical and can be triggered by the smallest of things. It’s essential to not rush inner healing – our own or another’s. How difficult it can be to remember this. The practices of kindness, compassion and forgiveness become as necessary as breath.

 

There’s an intimacy that comes with sharing our humanness, and in that intimacy, many things can come up. I share my story with sensitivity and respect for what it can trigger in others. As part of this practice, make room for whatever emotions, memories or judgments that may have come up for you.

 

This practice asks us to come out of the places we hide. If you want to share stories you’ve held inside, I welcome them. My intention as a teacher has always been to have a space where things that have been hidden can be shared openly, from the physical to the esoteric.

And this is when I am reminded what Yoga is. It’s not poses, it’s not having an OM tattoo, not being able to speak the lingo. Or at least it’s not only those things. Sometimes it’s the honesty of anger or elation, sometimes it’s hiding and today, it’s being undisguised, letting myself be seen.

There isn’t anything that isn’t Yoga. It’s all Yoga, right?