February 23rd is the sixth anniversary of my daughter’s death. I’m not looking forward to it. Just thinking about the day dredges up painful memories and images. At the time, my father-in-law was in the hospital and being treated for pneumonia. My daughter, who admired him greatly, took time off from work to be with him.
She sat by his hospital bed and worked at her laptop computer. “She was here all night,” Dad declared, a statement that wasn’t true, “and she cured me.” But my daughter didn’t cure Dad. In fact, she died two days before he did from the injuries she received in a car crash.
I can still see the two of them in my mind, Dad smiling at his first grandchild and my daughter smiling back at him. Though these images are painful, they are also comforting, because they represent love. How can we cope with awful memories and the anniversaries of a loved one’s death?
Understanding the type of death is a starting place. Therese A. Rando, PhD, in her book How to Go on Living when Someone You Love Dies, says traumatic loss, the type I experienced, differs from others. The symptoms of grief last longer, unfinished business lingers on, and we may experience a loss of security. If a loved one can die suddenly, what else could happen?
Memories can haunt us for years. The Gippsland Palliative Care Consortium in Australia offers some coping tips in a website article, “Grief: Coping with Challenges.” Replaying memories time and again helps us to come to terms with stress, according to the article. To counter these memories we can give ourselves permission to repeat them, share our thoughts with others, and get more information.
Planning ahead also helps us deal with memories. On the anniversary of my daughter’s death I’m going to do something that makes me feel good. Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt offers tips for coming to terms with memories in his article, “The Mourner’s Six Reconciliation Needs.” He describes needs as yield signs. The first sign is to acknowledge the reality of death and I’ve done this.
Embracing the pain of loss comes next and goodness knows I’ve felt enough pain. After my daughter and father-in-law died, my brother and my grandchildren’s father died, all within nine months. Yield sign number three is developing a new self-identity. I had two new identities, guardian of my twin grandchildren and grief writer.
Searching for new meaning, sign number five, was easy because of my new identities. I didn’t have time for a pity party; two vulnerable teenagers were counting on me and my husband. When it comes to the sixth yield sign, receiving ongoing support from others, I am blessed. My extended family and a close circle of friends have been by my side all through my grief journey.
“Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future,” Wolfelt writes. I have found his statement to be true. Despite all of the sorrow, I am at a good place in life. Are you wrestling with awful memories and anniversary reactions? I hope you will find your new identity, grow from pain, choose happiness for yourself, and create a new life.
On the sixth anniversary of my daughter’s death I will write in the morning, email my grandson in Argentina, where he is studying, and get together with family members. I will always be a bereaved parent and have learned that love is everlasting. Love really is stronger than death.
Copyright 2013 by Harriet Hodgson