How can we turn grief anniversaries into a source of personal focus and strength?
We all have grief anniversaries, and the older we get the more we accumulate.
Grief anniversaries are those dates in the calendar of our life, when loss can be felt particularly strongly.
Loss is about change, which can be due to losing another through death or separation, or losing aspects of our way of life due to illness, age, unemployment or other changes in our circumstances.
Anniversaries can range from public holidays or more personal memorable moments, like birthdays, deaths, funerals, moving house, moving country, becoming ill and much more.
The emotions you and I may have on grief anniversaries can vary and range, in no particular order, from fear of painfully reliving it all, to sad acceptance, helplessness or anger about what has happened.
On some days the wound of loss is very deep and raw, indeed. On other days it may be more robust, guarded and secure.
But those moments can also be helpful (even if they are uncomfortable) opportunities of reflection, contemplation, looking at life and ourselves. And sometimes new realizations and decisions can come from that.
Grief anniversaries – an example
For me, today is the start of a very special grief anniversary around my most recent loss – the death of a close friend.
Today, one year ago, I received a call from her, while I was walking past her home. I was just contemplating that she must still be on holidays, as the curtains were still drawn. The reality was different.
My friend had become very unwell while abroad, managed to return to the UK and had gone straight into hospital. Later that day, I found out that she was dying of breast cancer, which had returned and spread to her bones. Previous symptoms, which had been considered as signs of a stiff neck and other comparatively minor issues, had actually been signs of a tumour growing on the top of her spine. My friend, who was a close and much loved friend to many, died approximately 3 weeks later.
I have written about this:
- the most incredible and special 3 weeks we all shared with her,
- coping with and preparing for her death and therefore an ending,
- the grief following her death, when the world becomes a smaller place,
- the impact on our mental, emotional and physical energies,
- and why self care is of the essence.
So, today is a special grief anniversary.
A day I have been preparing for, because it is the start of a special 3 weeks, filled with memories – if I let it.
And let it I will! Because I know myself well enough to realise, that for me this is the best way of processing her death, our loss and my grief.
The disbelief and traumatic experience of how quickly a life can end remains, as if it was now imprinted on my DNA. It is not always at the forefront of my mind. But it is there, nevertheless. You will know what I mean.
When we go through grief anniversaries, we may feel and think more directly about what happened – or did not happen, about what was said – or not said.
I am also thinking about what life has been like for me since. What have I done, or not, and why?
Grief anniversaries bring raw existential questions about the past, present and future.
When I was a child, I observed older people often wondering whose turn it will be next. In those days death tended to be related to age, old age. Serious illness, accidents, crime, existential worries were not part of my village childhood.
If only I could preserve such innocence. But then again, is it not better to face realities? Because we are part of uncomfortable realities. And loss and grief is part of that.
As my own grief anniversary today draws to an end, I am preparing for all the little but not less important ones – memories of what occurred last year between today and the moment of her death.
She had decided to donate her body to medical training. And so there was no funeral and no grave to visit.
Before we got to know each other and became friends we would pass each other most mornings on our separate walks. She with her camera, me with my dog.
Since her death she has passed me on our walks and we talk or exchange a knowing nod. Because that is what grief can do. You may know what I mean.
Grief can give us an intense sense of presence of the other, who has died.
It can be upsetting; it can be reassuring. These are emotional phenomena we don’t need to measure, analyse or defend.
In a few weeks time there will be another grief anniversary in my calendar of life: her death. And we, her friends, will mark that, too.
Because who knows what the next loss and the next grief anniversary after that (or even before that) may be.
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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.