“The feat of surviving is directly related to the capacity of the survivor.” ~ Claire Cameron
I feel like I have a hangover. My body aches, I am slightly bitchy, exhausted and ready for recovery. The past three and a half months have once again taken their toll and I am grateful that I once again have survived it. Each year, as for most grievers, is experienced differently. I have yet to decide if the dynamics of my circumstances are a blessing or a curse but never-the-less, they are what they are and they are mine to figure out how to deal with.
When grieving the loss of a loved one, a new “anniversary” finds its way onto your calendar. However when you are grieving a loss from a critical illness, like cancer, you end up with several unwanted new anniversaries. For me, there is Diagnosis Day, Relapse Day and Death Day. For me, these days stack on themselves one right after another with little time to recover in between. For me, this season of grief is especially intense; emotionally and physically.
As I said, I am not sure if this is good or bad. I can’t imagine having these days spread throughout the calendar, interrupting every season constantly reminding me all year long. Not that I forget, EVER. Then again maybe it would be easier to catch your breath before the next wave hit. There is something rather ominous about these anniversary dates that all grievers experience. The weeks and days before are full of dread, sadness and anger. The day itself is a crap shoot as to how you will feel and the next few weeks are spent trying to rest emotionally with the knowledge that it is behind you again, for another year. The entire process is demanding enough, one day at a time but try plowing through all three days in just a few short months, sprinkled with a few holidays in between.
It starts for me on Dec. 17th. This is Relapse Day and the “official beginning of the end”. Right before the Christmas holiday it tends to cast a shadow on the festivities. I walk past presents in the stores he would have loved to see under the tree when shopping for my other children and family. I don’t get to stuff his stocking or make his favorite foods. My son is always noticeably missing.
The next day is Feb. 16th. This is Death Day. Two days after Valentine’s Day. Ugh, could the timing be any worse for me, so far? Again shadows are cast on the holiday and I just started to get settled after going through the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.
The last day is March 26th. This is Diagnosis Day. Just a little over a week past St. Patrick’s Day. Thank God this holiday has no emotional value to me, but right in the midst of Easter. Yet again shadowy holidays abound. For me this is the weakest of my anniversary day attackers, in fact there have actually been years that it has gone past unnoticed until a day or two after. But it is always noticed at some point, as it marks the end of the season of grief…..until next year.
On some level I am happy to rip off the band aid quickly, so to speak, and get through the anniversaries and shadowy holidays without dragging them out all year long. The winter is cold and dark, seems a fitting time to check them off the list. Yet the barrage of days and holidays always takes a toll on me. I simply am exhausted on all accounts. By the end of it, I feel especially run down and spent. Yet, grateful that it is now spring and the promise of regrowth is upon us. Flowers bloom, baby birdies chirp and the sun shines longer each day…. hope is upon me and I make a point of noticing that too.
All bereaved experience the passing of anniversaries and holidays. It simply cannot be avoided. But how you approach these days will make a difference in surviving them.
- Remember that the lead up is often worse than the actual day. This has always been the case for me. I fret about what I will do, who I will spend it with or whether or not I am going to even acknowledge it. Try to stay focus on positive activities and aspects in your life during this time. Make a plan right away, months in advanced rather than days. If you have it set that you will do specific things or go to specific places on anniversaries and holidays you can focus on your plans rather than the reminder the day presents. Hosting a memorial fundraiser or event to celebrate your loved one will give you ample things to do before and during the day, while staying positively focused on your loved one.
- Mole hills will be the size of mountains. Any new or unresolved conflict will seem so much bigger while grieving, especially on sensitive days like the anniversary of your loved ones death. Remind yourself of this when presented with conflict. Your solutions and responses to conflict right now will be extra emotionally charged than they already would have been. Do not always trust your instinctual reaction. Much like resisting an impulse buy in the grocery store checkout line…you will prevent less buyer’s remorse if you allow yourself time to address the conflict. If you are dealing with something that is ongoing and unresolved, give yourself permission to re-address it at a later date. Tackle only the issues that must to be attended to, all the rest can wait and may not seem like a battle worth choosing once the date has passed.
- Always have an exit plan. Do not go into these types of days and holidays without an easily executed getaway. If this means taking your own car or slipping unnoticed out of a holiday party, then do it. There is nothing worse than sitting through an event or holiday party while you feel like you are dying inside, holding back tears. A griever often needs to take timeouts though out an event or party, especially when it is near an anniversary date. Do not feel bad or self-loath one bit about needing to take a breather or even leave an event. After all, the most important aspect was accomplished already. You went. The going and participating in life around you is more important than the staying until last call. Give yourself a pat on the back, wave goodbye (or not) to the host and bail out the first exit you see.
Finding a way to cope with anniversary dates and holidays will make grieving easier during those times. You may have a ritual activity you do each year or you may take it as it comes, making plans based on where you are in your life or grief journey at that time. There is no right way to cope with the anniversary of a loved one’s death or sit through a Christmas Party just days later. However keeping things in perspective, making a plan, avoiding conflict and having an out will help you survive it.