We have lost many this year to MM and other cancers or health issues. Having conversations with my many friends, both personally and via the net, one thing comes through loud and clear, getting through milestones and anniversaries is very hard. With the holidays being a particularly difficult time, I thought perhaps we could express it out loud in the hopes that others will find some solace in the camaraderie.
“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” – Author Unknown
I have always felt that the biggest reason for a “year of mourning” was largely due to the arduous struggle of getting through each birthday, holiday, anniversary, tradition. I guess this would also be one of the reasons I struggle with the rampant and unfettered use of drugs during an appropriate grieving process. I remember recently a news article raging around the internet stating that two weeks was enough time for grieving and anything beyond that needed intervention. Really? Are you kidding me? I can’t recall all the details, but I think it was getting into the DSM, the bible of psychiatric disorders. If it’s not in there it’s not covered by insurances and so forth. I don’t know if it made it in, but I still get riled up just thinking about it.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. “~From a headstone in Ireland
I remember even as a budding teenager after my father died, thinking to myself, I just have to get through everything this year. My 13th birthday 6 weeks after he died was the first biggy. It just didn’t feel right to me to laugh or have joy of any kind after my father died. That somehow it dishonored how important he was in my life. It took me a long time to shake that datum, but the first year, I allowed myself the full right to be miserable. I remember clearly feeling a sense of relief as the first year anniversary of his accident arrived. I didn’t feel great mind you, but I felt relief. Relief that I had indeed survived it. Barely. The years that followed were less miserable and a chipping away at the just plain old missing him. I began to relish and enjoy the stories of his life that his friends and relatives were so lovingly and willing to share with me. How much they loved him and admired him. That he taught them to swim, or always included them in his activities even though they were so much younger tagging along. His colleagues who respected him. Even some old girlfriends who still had a special spark in their eyes when they thought of him. It gave me solace.
When my mother died in 2011 after her battle with cancer it was right before Thanksgiving. It was hard. I did two things that I wasn’t sure would go over, but happily they did. One was I took a beautiful black and white photograph I had found of my parents on a ski slope in the early 60’s and made it into my Christmas card. I put some lovely saying inside and then on the back I wrote a story of how I found it after she died and had never seen it. That it reminded me of happier times and how handsome they looked standing there looking out over the world. I hoped that their many friends and family would love the photo as much as I did and that it wasn’t morbid. It was well received and I was so heartened by it.
The second thing I did was put new pajamas under the tree for all of us from my mother (“Grandi”) to be opened on Christmas eve. It was her tradition. She did it so we all looked less raggedy for morning photos. My sister and I always hated that tradition not getting to pick the one gift we wanted to open, but as we had our own children, we understood it better and continued to do it. I held my breath as I handed out the gifts to everyone and when they all saw the card saying “Love Grandi!” the children exclaimed, “PAJAMAS!”, and ripped open their presents with giant smiles on their faces. My sister came up to me and whispered, “Lori, thank you for that, it was perfect.”
My mother’s birthday was Dec 28th. So for a few years afterwards I would take my sister to one of my mom’s favorite restaurants that we would take her to. We would order her favorite appetizers and toast to her birthday, share a few stories, a few tears, and just spend the evening together. We don’t do that anymore because we are 3,000 miles apart now, but it got my sister through some very difficult years of missing our mother.
My point in sharing these stories with you is that I believe we all struggle with ways to honor our loved ones, and that we should try to find ways to do that. Ways that make sense and bring joy and good memories, not sadness or heartache. Perhaps it’s a toast or the reading of a favorite story. Maybe it’s as simple as the loved one’s favorite dessert at our celebratory meals. Every family has them. When you can take a moment to move from your grief, think about two things. One, how to keep something moving forward that honors them and two, how to create something new for yourself to move forward. Perhaps instead of staying home for the holidays you take a trip, spend it with your children and grandchildren, something.
My best advice is to embrace your grief. It is completely OK. Not that you need my permission, but sometimes it helps to have someone validate that it is completely acceptable for you to feel as you do when others might not be so forthcoming in understanding what you are going through. I think if after a year you are still “chronically” struggling, you may want to reach for some extra support. Notice I said, chronically. I don’t think it is at all unacceptable to still have moments. A wedding, selling a house, the birth of a grandchild, are events where you miss them and know that they should be there. But the day in and day out moments of grieving should be much farther apart.
I’ve noticed for myself, that the grief when it hits me is still incredibly profound. But my recovery from it is very quick. It doesn’t linger for days or weeks. When it does hit, I just face it. I don’t judge myself or try to shake it off. I really consider it part of the process and truthfully, I’m relieved that I truly still miss them. They’re worth missing.
So as you move through these holidays, take solace. You are not alone in your grief.
I’ve written a lot on my blog over the years about grief and loss. Forgive me if I’ve repeated myself somewhat in this post. I just was feeling it, as many I know and love are newly going through this difficult time. It’s very raw for them and I too am feeling it. Not as difficultly as they are, a friend vs a spouse or loved one, but I miss them too and find myself caring deeply for those experiencing this loss. Find ways to honor them and have faith that you will be able to keep moving forward. Distribute some of their belongings amongst your family and friends who you think would appreciate having it. Let go of what you can that was theirs when it feels right. Get help doing that if you need it.
My sister was hanging on to grocery lists my mother wrote, crumpled pieces of paper in a mess of other things. It took comforting nudging from me to get her to express to me why she was holding on to things of little value, just because “it was Mom’s.” Bit by bit we chipped at it and eventually she was able to let a lot of that stuff go and be more selective about what she kept. Those things she kept meant more to her in the long run than if everything just continued to rot in boxes being hauled from place to place as she tried to put her life back together. I’m not saying there is a right or wrong way to do this. Just do feel free to question yourself and your motives at your own pace. But at least do it. (I kept a couple favorite shirts she used to wear that I wear from time to time and while I rarely wear perfume, when I do, I wear hers. Sometimes when I’m missing her I will wear these things. It’s like a warm embrace.)
And finally, I don’t think we would want our loved ones to mourn our passing in ways that prevented them from having a full and joyous life. So part of honoring them, is to share our memories of them, make new ones, and move forward. You’ll know when it’s right. It won’t be a moment where you wake up and say, “Ok, I’m done.” No. It will be little tiny changes that happen over time and perhaps one day you will notice that you are there.
What struck me about this video is that she talks about grief and life’s issues and those in the spiritual clothing who can seem less than genuine. She’s right in that we really do not want answers as much as genuineness and understanding.