It is close to Christmas at our house, and last weekend my wife was at a family Thanksgiving dinner which we attend every year, when she said that she wanted to go by her brother's grave to visit, and so we did. Her brother has been gone for nine years now. Dean was killed in a construction accident, just before Thanksgiving, and my wife experiences some pain every year at the anniversary of his death. She was 34 when he died, and Dean was a young man too.
As the days get shorter heading into the Winter Solstice, I find myself becoming a bit melancholy with the season, and remembering regrets and the number of days that have already passed in my life, as I am 60. Call it an informal life review. On the whole, I am very satisfied with my decisions and choices, but I have made my share of mistakes too.
So I like to acknowledge the season with little rituals and prayers, like cleansing myself and my house with sweet grass, and simple appreciation for the feelings.
For example, this morning I wanted to sleep in, which seldom happens, so I chose to get up and get to work on this page instead, but it took a little more effort. Later today, when I am working out, in my daily prayers, I will take a moment to appreciate Winter's majesty and fear its extremes.
So that ritual is one that I attend to at least four times per week, so rituals for feelings and losses can be frequent.
I also found the following materials at the Mayo Clinic site, and want to include them here. They are excellent, and a link follows at the end of the page to take you there if you care to visit.
"Grief: Coping with reminders after a loss
When you lose someone close, your grief doesn't just magically end. Reminders often bring back the pain of loss, even years later. Here's how to cope and heal.
When a loved one dies, you may be faced with grief over your loss again and again, sometimes even years later.
Feelings of grief may return annually on the anniversary of your loved one's death and on special days throughout the year, such as a birthday or religious holiday.
Even memorial celebrations for strangers who died in catastrophes, conflicts or disasters can trigger the familiar pain and sadness of your own loss.
[The following is very important to remember].
The return of these feelings of grief isn't necessarily a setback in the grieving process. It's a reflection that the lives of others were important to you and that you grieve their loss and still miss them. Learning more about what to expect and how to cope with reminders of your loss can help make the grieving process a healthy, healing one.
What to expect when grief returns.
The memories and emotions of a lost loved one that are reawakened through reminders are often called anniversary reactions.
These reactions, which can last for days or weeks at a time, can raise a host of emotions and physical problems similar to the ones you faced when you were first bereaved, including:
* Sadness * Loneliness
* Lack of interest in activities
* Crying spells
* Replaying images in your mind related to your loved one
* Trouble eating
* Sleeping problems
* Stomach upset
Anniversary reactions can also evoke powerful emotional memories — experiences in which you vividly recall the feelings and events surrounding your loved one's death. You might remember in great detail where you were and what you were doing, for instance, when your loved one died.
Common triggers of grief — a year of 'firsts'
Some reminders of your loved one are almost inevitable, especially during the first year after a death.
That's when you'll face a lot of "firsts" — those first special days that'll pass without your loved one.
As the weeks and months go by, you may also face other significant days or celebrations without your loved one that can trigger your grief again.
Some of these "firsts" and other special occasions that can reawaken your grief include:
* The first holiday
* Mother's Day, Father's Day or another day you would have honored your loved one
* Weddings and wedding anniversaries
* Family reunions
* Childhood milestones, such as the first day of school, prom, homecoming and other child-oriented days
* Anniversaries of special days — when you met, when you became engaged, when you last saw your loved one alive, when you took a big trip together
Your reactions to these firsts and special occasions might be intense initially. But as the years pass, you'll probably find it easier to cope — but not forget.
Reminders can be anywhere, and unexpected.
[Again, the following is very important. Reminders can be subtle, like a smell]. Reminders aren't just tied to the calendar, though. They can be anywhere — in sights, sounds and smells, in the news or on television programs.
And they can ambush you, suddenly flooding you with emotions when you drive by the restaurant your wife loved or when you hear a song your son liked so much.
Another death, even that of a stranger, can leave you reliving your own grief.
[Have you ever felt said as you drove down the highway, and came upon the wreckage of a serious accident, and felt sad for the sudden changes in the lives of those involved? It is like that].
Even years after a loss, you may continue to feel sadness and pain when you're confronted with such reminders.
Although some people may tell you that grieving should last a year or less, grieve at your own pace — not on someone else's expected timeline.
Tips to cope with reawakened grief
Time itself can lessen the intensity of your grief. You can also take measures to cope with anniversaries, special days and other reminders of your loss so that you can continue the healing process, including:
* Be reassured. Remember that anniversary reactions are common and normal and that the pain fades as the years pass — although it may never go away completely. [Say these words to yourself. Repeat as necessary, not to deny the feeling, but to acknowledge and move through].
* Prepare for episodes of grief. Knowing that you're likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
* Look for healing opportunities. You might find yourself dreading upcoming special days, fearful of being overwhelmed by painful memories and emotions. In some cases, the anticipation can be worse than the reality. In fact, you may find that you work through some of your grief as you cope with the stress and anxiety of approaching reminders.
[If you fail to remember an anniversary, please do not shame yourself for being a "bad griever." Maybe explore the idea that your are healing or have healed a bit].
* Reminisce about the relationship you had with the person who died. Try to focus on the good things about the relationship and the time you had together, rather than the loss.
[Gratitude is the Attitude-Bill W. and Dr. Bob]
* Plan a distraction. Take a weekend away or plan a visit with friends or relatives.
[Get yourself a little indulgence, a favorite chocolate of coffee, and treat yourself. Dark chocolate has some important feeling good impact].
* Start a new tradition in your loved one's memory. For example, make a donation to a charitable organization in the person's name on birthdays or holidays, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one.
[I love to get trees from the Audoban Society and plant them in the yard. Watching them grow is so neat].
[When I am in Kansas, I make it a point to visit my parents and my brother's graves, to grieve. It is a ritual, and makes it a bit easier to bookmark grief for those moments and places it is most appropriate].
* Tune out. Limit your exposure to news reports about tragic events if you become more anxious, sad or distressed.
* Connect with others. Draw family members and friends close to you, rather than avoiding them. Find someone who encourages you to talk about your loss. Stay connected to your usual support systems, such as spiritual leaders and social groups. Consider joining a bereavement support group.
* Allow yourself to feel sadness and a sense of loss. But also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness as you celebrate special times. In fact, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.
* Attend a memorial. You may find it healing to attend a public memorial service or ceremony that marks the anniversary of tragedies, disasters and other events that claimed lives. These kinds of ceremonies can help draw people together and allow you to share experiences with others who feel similarly.
When grief becomes overly intense or painful
Normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade within six months or so. In some cases, though, your grief experience may be much more complicated, painful and debilitating. Or your grief may get worse over time instead of better, or it may last for years.
In these cases, you may no longer be simply grieving. Your grief may have progressed into a medical disorder, such as:
* Depression * Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) * Complicated grief
If your grief interferes with your ability to function in your daily life, see your doctor, primary care provider or mental health provider for evaluation and possible treatment."
In the even of the above experiences, if you are in the Rockford, Illinois area, please call Julie Logan, RN, LCSW, for a consultation. 815-316-2126
When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
Would you share what you are most grateful for? Your story could be just what another person is searching for to renew themselves? Thanks.