Queen Elizabeth II once said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh believed that “Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way.” Both women were correct; loss is part of life and each of us grieves in our own way, in our own time. But how do we cope with loss when so many things around us serve as a reminder of our child who was once there? Grief often surfaces on the anniversary of your child’s death, on a birthday, or on holidays like Memorial Day, Christmas or other special days. These feelings are normal; they’re called an anniversary reaction, and they are not necessarily a setback in the grieving process. In a way, the reemergence of grief is a good sign, a reflection that your child’s life was important and always will be important.
To continue on the path toward healing, it is important to know what to expect and how to cope with reminders of this loss. Certain reminders of your child are no doubt inevitable, especially on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days. Remember that memories are not tied to a calendar. They can be triggered by sights, sounds and smells. They can literally ambush you, flooding you with emotions at the most unexpected times.
Learning what to expect when grief returns can be very helpful in coping with it. For instance, anniversary reactions can last for days, weeks or even longer. Here are a few emotions and reactions you might experience:
The good news is there are ways of coping with reawakened grief:
Be prepared and remember that anniversary reactions are normal. Just knowing you might experience a sudden onrush of emotions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
Plan a distraction. Get together with friends or family during this time to help you take your mind off grieving.
Don’t be afraid to reminisce with family or friends about the relationship you shared with your child, but try to focus on the good things and the great times you had together. You might even write a letter to your child and tell him/her everything you’re feeling. This is an excellent way to unburden yourself!
Stay connected to your support systems, social groups. If you are not already part of a bereavement support group, consider joining one. Some people use social media as a way of feeling connected to others.
Allow yourself to feel all the emotions you are feeling. It’s okay to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.
While there is no time limit for grief, if it gets worse over time instead of softer or interferes with the ability to function in daily life, consulting with a mental health provider or a grief counselor can help. Unresolved or complicated grief can lead to depression and other mental health problems, but with professional help it is possible to re-establish a sense of control and direction in life.
Just as with a real roller coaster we need to “Hang On” when riding the roller coaster of grief.
You can yell and scream all you want as your grief hits all those curves and dips and bumps, but don’t give up. Hang on to hope. Hang on to love. Hang on to memories. Hang on to life. Have realistic goals that you can meet. Be fair to yourself. We all have bad days that blindside us, the ups and downs of the grief, but these bad days also enable us to feel the beauty of a good day, the love of a friend, the power of a gorgeous sunset, or the peace of a serene lake.