Anniversaries are supposed to be fun, aren’t they? Celebrating another year of x, y or z. Loved ones around, some music and bad jokes, laughter. Maybe some candles and cake. Yum.
Grief anniversaries are not so. I’ve decided that anniversaries of grief events are now going to be called, Milestones. Another year of surviving. A date ingrained so deeply we can neither avoid nor escape it so we try our best to survive it. Some feel surprisingly “easy” and then a week later it’s like a baseball bat to the back of the head and you’re spontaneously crying into breakfast cereal or the broccoli at the supermarket for three days. What the?
Ah yes that’s right! It’s because I haven’t been “working” on my grief. What a shitty concept. I got sold hook, line and sinker:
To get through your grief/depression/whatever to the mystical, “other side,” you have to work on it.
That’s the grief I knew. Grief is linear. A process to be completed. Unpredictable, individual, yes, but something to be worked through.
You will get through it by accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain and detaching from the deceased.
Once you’ve resolved your grief (by working on it!) you will be able to get closure.
AND, it takes time…
If you’re still struggling, you have unresolved, problematic grief.
If you maintain a connection to the deceased, you are pathological.
It all seemed so damn Victorian!
Well, Hallelujah for a ‘new’ concept in grief therapy that recently came into my awareness, via two savvy professionals at whatsyourgrief.com:
Dennis Klass and buddies have a different understanding of grief called, Continuing Bonds… dah dah dahhhhh! From studying children, they noticed that kids with an ability to cope with the loss of a parent and the accompanying change in their lives were those who had a set of cherished memories, feelings, actions and items that kept them connected to their deceased parent.
The children weren’t delusional, they fully understood and believed that the parent was dead and yet, they were maintaining a relationship by talking to them, daydreaming, thinking about them, or imagining being with them.
These connections provided comfort, solace and support and eased the burden during transition from the past to the future.
And, so Klass and co reckon, it can be no different for adults too. Interacting with the dead CAN be normal, rather than pathological. Small rituals are not weird or needing to be corrected. Maintaining a connection with our lost loves can now be moved from the harmful to the helpful list of behaviours on the “work”sheet that the therapist gives you.
It’s been a bit of a revelation to be honest. It has really helped me give myself a break in the grieving department.
The grief crazies, the yearning and searching feelings that make you want to run ten miles, the pain of missing the physical proximity to my love, the despair and hopelessness that it creates. Now at least if I want to find some comfort from a small ritual, seeking out that psychological proximity is ok! It’s not unhealthy.
It’s ok to cherish the smell of a tshirt that takes you by surprise in a cupboard and welcome the tears. Exploring comfort in the discomfort CAN be normal and doesn’t mean we are failing to move on. It’s ok.
We can choose be kind to our grown up selves in our grief. Just like we are kind to the kids in theirs.
At the next milestone, I’m not going to steel myself or try to run through it. I am going to feel more proud of how I choose to spend it. I want to enjoy what I do to remember him and be with him, however painful or unpleasant it may be. Maybe we’ll light some candles and play some tunes together. I’ll laugh at the ones he used to sing so badly. Remember his really bad, dad jokes. Maybe I’ll bake that lemon cake he used to love.
It’s starting to sound more like an anniversary after all… Perhaps I’ve just been doing them wrong.
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