grief

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

 

Grief + Loss Anniversaries Part I

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.
 

Part I
 

Self Kindness

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.

 

The Ambush

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.

 

Significant Anniversaries 

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.

 

Early Anniversaries

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.

 

 

on being human

The TV show The Voice is partly responsible for my passion around developing the Living Wholeheartedly with Grief and Loss series.

Let me explain.

I am a sucker for singing competition shows, particularly The Voice. I love the blind auditions, I love the banter between Adam and Blake, I loved Alicia Keys last season.

But what really gets me are the background stories they do on some of the contestants. As one review of the show put it, “Every contestant, it seems, just came off a near death experience, or a loved one is dealing with a serious illness or a job loss, or all three.”

Like the kid who has battled a bone disorder and was in and out of hospitals his whole life, or the 16 year who is singing for her parent who just died, or the woman who was disowned by her family because she is gay.

These are sad stories.

And here’s the heart of it for me.  

The contestant, who is probably under 25, already feeling intense pressure just minutes before what they often describe as “the biggest moment” of their life, is being interviewed about their emotional story... and starts to cry.

The first thing he or she will say at that point is, “I’m sorry.”

Sometimes followed by, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

Every. Single. Time. a contestant cries, they apologize.

As though feeling sad that your father just died isn’t ok. As though being emotional about your childhood trauma is not allowed. As though being booted from your family of origin isn’t worthy of tears.

Yes, it’s probably embarrassing to cry on national television. But I think it’s deeper than that.

Our culture does not acknowledge the profound impact of major life 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.

Yet it is critical to our heart’s health and the wholeness of who we are to integrate the loss into this new way of living, eventually learning to live wholeheartedly with – not in spite of – that loss.

This series is a big part of the reason I do this work...
To acknowledge that there isn’t anything that isn’t Yoga.
To honor the human experience and paradoxes of life.
And to remind ourselves that this is an Every Day Practice.

creative grief

Living Wholeheartedly with Grief and Loss allow you to explore the loss experience using creative tools, meditation, movement and discussion.

Workshops and retreats are sprinkled throughout the year. Make sure you're on the list to find out when the next one is.

If you have any questions about this work, email me anytime

Looking forward to connecting with you soon,

Michelle