Getting Through the Annual Reminders of Your Loss

By Carol Luebering

Memory writes on every page of the calendar—here a birthday, there a holiday, further on a wedding date. In the wake of death, those precious days bear a bittersweet tinge, a pang that the celebrations they mark will never be repeated with someone you have loved.

Whether this is your first turn around the calendar—or one of many—since your loss, these dates loom dark on the horizon. Tears that you thought were behind you swell again, and with them comes a terrible loneliness.

Working your way through. 
These days will not be wished away, even if you pull the covers over your head and wait for the sun to set. And perhaps nothing you can do will make them easy. But you can meet these milestones head-on and make them into a bridge stretching toward a brighter tomorrow.

Reach out.
Choose your company for the day. Don’t wait for someone to remember. Your grief easily slips out of mind—even within the closest circle of family and friends. Start dropping reminders when the day’s approach first begins to haunt you. Don’t assume that the best company is those with whom you have always spent that day. You might be more comfortable with someone who has been in your shoes.

Don’t hesitate to present your need and ask for companionship. Claim the offers of “anything I can do” which were so generously made when your loss occurred.

Don’t forget to tap the support of your faith-community. In the Jewish tradition, bereaved families light a 24-hour candle on the anniversary of a death and recite prayers of remembrance at the synagogue service. Roman Catholics mark special days with a Mass. Both practices reflect a centuries-old wisdom, rallying the support of the believing community. Whatever your faith-tradition, ask for prayers.

Look back.
Claim your memories, those bits of history which have made you who you are. Someone once observed that “memory is the power to gather roses in winter.” Clip your bouquet. Get out the scrapbook and the love letters; line up the gifts and souvenirs you cherish. Call to mind all the joys and struggles which shaped this interrupted relationship.

Claim your grief. Give yourself permission to cry as much as you need to. Relive once more the illness or accident which precipitated your loss. (“Listen to the story once more” may well be what you need to ask of your chosen companions.) Recapture the feelings which swept over you at the time of death.

Survey your journey through the calendar so far, with all its ups and downs. Take stock of how far you have come, of the unexpected strengths you have found within yourself.

Look forward. 
Create a new holiday ritual. Go out for Thanksgiving dinner instead of fixing the turkey yourself. Replace the big tree with a small one trimmed with bows instead of getting out the ornaments. Mark a birthday by giving just one thing which belonged to the person you mourn to someone who will cherish it.

Celebrate today’s joys. Count the blessings you have, especially the people who grace your life with love. Ask yourself which of those relationships need attention, to whom you need to express your affection while there is still time. Mark your calendar to make a friendly phone call or extend an invitation.

Take heart.
The turns through the calendar mark the passage of time: one year, two years, ten. But time works its magic only when it is used well.

On the days special in your memory, face the truth of your sorrow and the truth of the healing which has already begun. And believe the promise Jesus of Nazareth spoke: “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.”

Excerpt taken from Getting Through the Annual Reminders of Your Loss CareNote.

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