Explosive devices hidden in high passage areas are called land mines. No one is ever ready for them, and they cause tremendous damage. Often they are deadly. They are always traumatic.
The term land mine is also used in reference to grief work, and for the same reasons. Days that have significance to your loved one can be as hard to get through as the day that person died. Even if you know to watch for them, even if you are prepared, they can be tough. Our society no longer knows what to do with grief because we tend to avoid aging and hide death. So land mines really sneak up on people and throw them for a loop.
Anniversaries are the biggest land mines. The date of the death is probably harder a year later than it was at first. You don’t have the benefit of shock the year after. It’s raw. And there are triggers that you are only aware of subconsciously. Triggers are things unrelated to the death event, but present. You saw them, but didn’t notice them. They were insignificant at the time. Now they play a major role, but you may not be aware of their effect. For instance, if your loved one died in Spring, the first daffodil or ad for an Easter sale can throw you into a funk. The Christmas decorations that appear on store shelves in September can depress you if the death was at holiday time. Geographical locations, weather phenomena, even a visit from an out of town friend that was here at the time of death can trigger an anniversary response. You may remain in the grip of this malaise until you put two and two together. Evidence of this is found in the memorials in the obituaries. Most are published on the anniversary of a death. Healthier is publishing a memorial on the anniversary of a person’s birth.
Birthdays can also be difficult. This date so personal to your loved one certainly puts you in mind of that person. And reminds you how much you miss them. The recommendation here is to go ahead and have a personal birthday celebration for that person. Light a candle. Look at photos. Eat cake. Celebrate who that person was in your life. In the event that the Departed was difficult, and left you with less than happy memories, think about that. Think of how you survived, are surviving. Remember that the best revenge is to live well. It is also common to elevate the deceased to sainthood. Take this time to look at your memories realistically.
If you come from a large family, it’s always somebody’s birthday! Undoubtedly the death occurred around the time of one of them. Make sure that person is celebrated in their own right. Don’t let the second thing out of your mouth after ‘Happy Birthday’ be ‘Y’know Gran died at this time of year’. It wouldn’t be fair. On that note, though, realize that a child born close to the time of a trauma will be forever connected to it, paying the price of that emotionally. It takes a strong family a lot of time and work to break that cycle. Most don’t, because they’re not aware of it. Did you not feel close to a parent? Look at family history for clues.
Grandparent’s, Mother’s and Father’s Days are very hard. This is true if the deceased was an adult. It is especially difficult for those who have lost a child through miscarriage, adoption or death. Keep these days in mind. Prepare for them. Find a real honest answer to the question “What do I need to get through it?” Do you need people around you, or solitude? Visit the gravesite, or just visit your memories? The candle and photos idea can be a good one here, too. Did you usually send flowers? Either get some for yourself to enjoy, or send some to someone else. Did you golf or fish with your Dad? Go golfing or fishing.
If you’ve lost a child, it may be very difficult for you to be around children. As hard as it will be, the recommendation here is to do something child oriented. Bring gifts to a children’s hospital. Volunteer at a school. Other people’s children are a fact of life, and you can’t live well by avoiding them. Be with kids, then go home and cry. It’ll help you over this hump. And you do need to get over it. You do not dishonor the child you lost by loving other children.
Holidays will be particularly stressful. All of them. The emphasis tends to be on family gatherings, and someone is now missing. See other articles on grieving through Holidays on the Bereavement Home Page. There is much information there on this special hurt.
A word here about something that is becoming more popular in our culture – roadside memorials. There is a reason we refer to the burial or disposition of ashes site as a place where the deceased can ‘rest in peace’. It is worrisome that so much emphasis is placed on the spot where their last breath was taken. It’s not healthy to dwell on that trauma. It prolongs grief. On a practical note, they are also hazardous. Many municipalities across the nation now remove them, holding the items to be claimed by unknown family.
Grieving is hard work. Knowing where some of the potholes are can only help.