I expected a grand attack of grief upon the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, but it passed with a poised emotional response at the cemetery and a handful of flowers.
Not so this time. Next month marks the 12th anniversary of Dad’s death. And the ninth anniversary of Mom’s. And the 1st anniversary I’ll spend without their home, my grieving space.
How we respond as each anniversary approaches depends in part on the year, month or week that precedes it. Because grief has a way of meeting us where we are.
Right now, I’m in a season of embarking on new things. Excited, yes. But uncertain, too. We tend to run to anchors during uncertain times. After my widowed mother died, one anchor was her home, the place I grew up. Surrounded by their things, I felt as if my parents were there.
That was comforting. Each death anniversary I’d go to their home and go through their things. As the years passed, I finished the job of cleaning out their home. I sold the house in May.
I’ve got an anchor in God, but I also find myself reaching out for my parents during this uncertainty and change. Their loss is on the front row again. And while I’m not exploding in tears, I feel a sort of ache. The loss of the house has awoken the loss of them.
As we approach death anniversaries, we have four possible singular or a combination of paths to take.
- * We may distract ourselves from grief. We may take on a project or go on a shopping spree or spend time with friends. A certain amount of distraction may be healthy, but we should not allow life to press us so far that we don’t deal with our grief.
- * We may dedicate time to memorialize our loved one. That’s what I did by going to my parents’ home each anniversary. This year, I need to make a new plan. I think I’ll go to the cemetery, but I’d like to do more to acknowledge the loss. Something meaningful. Honoring.
- * We may dive in or immerse our day in memory and tears. Setting aside time to grieve is an important part of healing. The only way to get to the other side of grief is to grieve. That may look different each year as our grief evolves and as different seasons of our lives unfold.
- We may deny our grief or pretend we’re over the loss. That’s the unhealthy way to handle grief. It will emerge in other ways if we deny it a place in our consciousness. Again, the only way to minimize grief is to fully embrace it first.
So even though it’s been 12 years, I’ll bend to grief again in this new season of my life. I won’t deny it or say, “It’s been a dozen years already. Enough!” I’ll be compassionate with myself. And through that compassion I’ll find new ways to journey through grief.
What do you do when anniversaries attack? What’s your go-to plan? What helps most?
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