The 10th anniversary of my daughter’s death is a few days away. I thought I was prepared for this anniversary, but I wasn’t. Instead, I have burst into tears several times. My daughter, mother of my twin grandchildren, died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Six months later he twins’ father died from the injuries he received in another crash. The court appointed my husband and me as the twins’ guardians.
A few days before the anniversary of their mother’s death, the twins were going to celebrate their 25th birthdays, and receive their mother’s legacy. To mark the occasion, my husband and I were going to host a family dinner at a local restaurant. Since both twins were interested in home improvement, we decided to give them gift cards from Home Depot. I went to the store, selected two gift cards, and proceeded to checkout. The woman at the cash register wore a hijab, the modesty scarf Muslim women wear.
“These are generous gifts,” she said. Her comment triggered something deep inside me.
“Well, it’s a special occasion,” I replied. Suddenly my mind went back in time to my daughter’s death and the other three family members who died that year. “My daughter was the mother of our twin grandchildren. Their parents died in separate car crashes. They were 15 when they moved in with us and my husband and I cared for them for seven years. These cards are for their birthdays.” Then I blurted, “Now I’m going to cry.”
The checkout woman was so touched she started to cry too. She reached across the counter and gave me a big hug. “I’m so sorry,” she said. Both of us tried to get our emotions under control, but we couldn’t. She proceeded to tell a story more tragic than mine. I cried harder and she cried harder.
“Your daughter is in your grandchildren,” she said, trying to comfort me. The woman reached for a box of tissues, handed me one, and took one for herself. What a pair we were, two bereaved women from different cultures, different religions, and different experiences. Yet we were bonded by grief. I paid for the gift cards and left the store. On the way home I thought of something Alan Pederson, Executive Director of The Compassionate Friends, told me. We were about to record a program for Open to Hope Radio and chatting beforehand. I told Alan how I cried unexpectedly at the dinner table.
“The 10th anniversary is a big one,” he said. Now I know what he meant.
Other bereaved parents have also learned the power of the 10th anniversary of a child’s death. One person is blogger Sukey Forbes. She wrote a letter to her deceased daughter, Charlotte, and posted it on her blog. In the letter she tells how she decided to make life her daughter’s legacy. Impossible as this decision seemed, Forbes felt it was the “only true course” for her. Later in the letter she tells Charlotte, “I learned how to be a warrior from you.”
I learned how to be a warrior, too, and it surprised me. Why is the 10th anniversary so powerful? I think there are two reasons, one physical, and one mathematical. We have 10 fingers and 10 toes and are reminded of this every time we bathe. Americans tend to mark the passage of time, even history itself, in decades. Many things can happen in a decade. In the last decade my grandchildren graduated from high school, went to college, graduated from college, and found jobs they enjoy. Brace yourself if the 10th anniversary of a loved one’s death is approaching.
Get ready for old memories to re-surface and for unexpected tears. Don’t berate yourself when you cry. Tears are proof of your love and it lasts forever.