Friday, September 23, 2011

Anniversaries, Birthdays and Occasions that remind us...


With the Holiday Season approaching in the next few months, it is a good time to look at how one might deal with "firsts" and the years that follow. In other words, facing the first birthday, Christmas, wedding anniversary without, the anniversary of the the loss of your loved one or any other significant date can be extremely difficult to say the least. The subsequent years can be difficult also.

Those days remind of the gaping hole that has caused our very essence so much pain and inability to function.  It is so difficult to picture that occasion without the person there in some sense in the case of special days such as birthday. Our loved one most likely had been a big part of it.

Then there's the other side-the anniversary of  that person's death or the event that eventually lead to our loved one's death. For example, on a grander scale, this is like the date of 9/11 to Americans who were alive and old enough to have observed and remember the attacks that happened.  It took away people's security in what one felt was how their world is or was.  Every year there is discussion about remembering those who were lost, the innocence of the people and a country were lost, the pain the event caused and the reminders of it all as the anniversary approaches.  There is also discussion about how the world and a country has changed since that day, how we've coped-everything from the feelings of the people to how we will try to prevent this type of event from ever happening again.  There have been many changes from that self examination. I think most people know what those are and that is not really appropriate to list here.

In both the cases of positive anniversaries such as birthdays and the more negative anniversaries such as the day of the person's death, there are ways to look at things to make things easier.It is important, first of all, to take care of yourself.  Make things simpler! Perhaps if you can spend the day with a different loved one or friend it will make the day go more smoothly.

Keeping things simpler, asking others for help or accepting it if someone offers it, are good things to do. The first Christmas after my mother died, I had my father over to my place so he and the rest of the family wouldn't have to spend the holiday at the place we always spent it with my mother. All the right people were there, but there wasn't the constant reminder that she wasn't there. We talked about her a lot, but there was less pressure. It was very low key but very warm and loving. It gave us the most important part! This was what the holiday was really supposed to be about anyways!  It wasn't about the decorations or the presents, but rather "presence".

My father lost his own dad on Thanksgiving Day, before I was born. It was kind of a tough day on my father every year.  He would often work at work if asked or sit quietly. He would help with the Thanksgiving Dinner, but would often feel sick to his stomach, throw up or have diarrhea on that day. It was a strong trigger for him. Well on December 2nd, 1992 he suffered a stroke. It was a difficult recovery.  He did quite well though in the long run. The point in mentioning that was that on Thanksgiving 1993, he started having symptoms that appeared as if he was having a stroke.  In the long run, it turned out to be a panic attack or similar- perhaps PTSD.  He associated his stroke from the year before with his father's stroke, and being so close in time.  Here is a link to a post in my other blog telling the story of what happened.

As a result of that day, we stopped preparing Thanksgiving at my parent's house and started going out to eat.  It was great. The pressure of cooking was off of my mother and helped make it all much more pleasureable. The cost actually wasn't much more than that of preparing the dinner.  One thing that was a fringe benefit was that it helped set time limits on how long people would spend with us-such as a cousin of my mother's, my dad's friend and my maternal grandmother. It was as easy as picking up and dropping off people, without having to deal with lingering house guests who might wear out their welcome with my dad and his sensitivity involving the holiday.  He would still get some stomach issues, but they generally more at ease.

Something that people could do in dealing with negative or positive anniversaries is to not necessarily change everything you do on that day through the years, but follow your instinct. One can adjust or change certain traditions.  One could start a new tradition that somehow honors the memory of the person not there.

This issue will be addressed more in the future. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, experiences or perhaps suggestions to be added to this in the comment section!  Please don't be afraid to share!

I hope this day finds you more and more at peace!

Mary Ellen

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