Sometimes people consider that the months went quickly as the earlier hours of intense grief yielded to lighter moments that signaled brighter days. For them it hardly seems possible, as the anniversary of the loved one's death approaches, that he or she has been gone already for one full year. Other times, folks say their grief is felt just as sharply as on the day the loved one died, and for them time has plodded by. To the extent that any generalization can be applied to bereavement, most people say the year went like this: it passed faster than they thought it would, although on some days - usually days of special significance -- the memories were sorely tender and the hours very long.
What the Year Was Like
We have come to a milestone. The marker by the path measures our movement through time since the hour we released our loved ones to go forth beyond time. Here is a stopping place. Let us pause, and looking back, reflect on the present and survey what destiny may lie ahead.
For everyone, some of the days of the year gone by have been tinged with more sadness than were others. During the past twelve months, people have said things like, "Today was my uncle's birthday; he would have been 57," and, "Every autumn, I always remember my mother taking me to school and telling me I made her proud."
For those who were married, observing the wedding anniversary alone was a struggle. Atop a dresser in the bedroom, the picture of a radiant young bride and groom frames a memory. But the happiness of that memory is tempered now with sighs.
People whose devotion to one another lay outside tradition said they remembered their partners on the day when they both did become, in fact, inseparable. "Even though our love was not sanctioned," said one, "our commitment was genuine."
A young man who graduated college said of his father, who died this year, "He was my first and best teacher in life." An elderly mother who lost her adult daughter said that she choked up whenever she thought of their "parallel memories": the court-ship of either of them and both of their weddings, the births of each of their children, and the deaths of both of their husbands.
To complete the first year of bereavement is to have begun to come to terms with a certain loss of self-definition. When we lose our parents, we are no longer son or daughter; when our spouse dies, we are no longer husband or wife; and when our children leave this earth, we cease to be parents.
Against this backdrop, it was a year of "first times" - the first time in church or synagogue alone, the first summer vacation, the first walk through Central Park alone, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's alone. The family reunion, bowling club, fishing trip, baseball game, Bridge tournament was not the same this year, will never be the same.
And so the time passes.
Looking back, you can see for yourself, it is understandable to feel low around the anniversary of your loved one's death, even if you had been gathering strength and achieving peace. Think of the emotion you felt as you experienced the sort of days considered above, as you faced them for the first time without your loved one. Though memories like these are bittersweet, dwell with them at this time, if you can, and you will gain an insight.
How Things Seem Now
Now, in marking the passing of one year, it is as if all the feelings from every day since that day will be condensed into an occasion with amplified emotion, the observance of which is both sad and significant. So while this time is doubtless hard, two things are important to bear in mind. First, our experience has shown what you probably already know by intuition, that observing the anniversary is an important step in progressing along your own journey.
There are a number of ways that you can observe the ending of the first year.
Many people report that visiting the grave or final resting-place brings deep satisfaction, both in fulfilling their sense of duty and also in finding comfort. Some take a living plant there or place a wreath. Others practice the custom of lighting a candle at home or putting a flower before the portrait of the beloved. Those who are members of a faith community can request that the name of their loved one be included in the prayers of the departed at their house of worship. People also stress that it is important to be in touch with their own families and, if other than their own, with the family of the deceased, unless some unusual hindrance is involved.
Still other possibilities for acknowledging the date include calling a mutual friend and, unless choosing to be alone, inviting people to share a meal, perhaps at a restaurant or club that holds special memories. Making a gift in memory of the loved one is always a praiseworthy idea, and hospice is always an appropriate charity. All these things ritualize the significance of the occasion and, in so doing, honor your loved one and help you as you continue to sort through the loss you have sustained.
The second point to remember is that letting yourself experience whatever feelings the event may trigger will not necessarily "set you back" in your grief. Just the opposite is true. Though the day may be difficult for you and you may feel blue, the progress you have made in becoming reconciled to your new reality should resume. In many cases, the grieving will be more tempered and less raw than it was in the year gone by.
Where the Future Leads
One of the more frequently asked questions that comes up in support groups or counseling sessions is, "Will I ever get completely over having lost my loved one?" The answer, too, comes in the form of a question: "Do you really want to get over it -- completely?" It turns out that what most people want is for the pain to go away but not the memory. At this one-year juncture, a good marker of progress is being able to distinguish between pain and memory and being able to let go of the pain but hold on to the memory. Up to now, these have been pretty much intertwined.
All this is to say that whatever the future holds, you will be able to fulfill your own destiny more completely by not worrying about losing the memory of your loved one. You will not forget, ever, and the feeling of their presence will not leave you. But let both their memory and the sense of their being accompany you with comfort and inspiration, not with unrelenting sadness and woe. If we pursue our course steadfastly, and purpose, some day others will remember us,
hopefully, not with tears of sorrow only but also with thanksgiving. That will mean we have endured the sorrow of life and the beauty of love; that we moved with grace through grief and persevered to affirm all that is sacred and eternal.
This meditation was written by
the Reverend William Purdy, STM, DD
Copyright (c) 2004 All rights reserved.
This publication is made possible by a gift from Roland DeL. Rinsland, Ed. D.