This time of year is nostalgic for me. Ever since I had children in school, the end of summer and the start of school year have always been bittersweet. The start of a new school year brought to mind how much growth had occurred for my kids. The anticipation of a new school year, new clothes, new school supplies, and a crispness in the air marked the passage of time in a way that a new calendar year never did. After Leah died this time of year became especially poignant. For a long time the associative memories that accompany this time of year were too much to bear.
This new year meant I was headed into another milestone day, another anniversary of Leah’s death, another reminder that she would be forever 17-1/2. I wanted to bury my head in the sand at the first cool breeze that came over the mountain and not emerge until after Christmas. Fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas were all conspiring to remind me of my pain. This season is rife with associative memories as it is, without the additional layer of missing my daughter. It felt like the anniversary of her death.
Each year I experienced grief differently.
Looking back on this time from where I am now, I can say that each year was providing me with the opportunity to be with my grief in a slightly different way.
I resolutely resisted entering this time until about year ten. Even though I lived with my loss 24/7, the time from October through December was fraught with memories that seemed fresh. Time had a way of playing tricks; I often relived all of the memories of her accident, the time in the hospital, memories of holidays past and her personal favorite holiday traditions.
We began changing our yearly routine.
While we still missed her, we did not have the familiar touchstones that connected us directly to the most painful memories. So, when you find yourself in a particularly difficult spiral of your own grief journey, here are a few ways to help you through that time.
When a difficult milestone is approaching, take some time and make space to feel your feelings.
You can light a candle, make a cup of tea, sit quietly and invite your feelings into your heart. Are your feelings especially raw right now? Ask yourself what you need during this particular day or time. If your feelings are intense it may feel right to change your perspective; go or do somewhere that you did not share with your loved one. You will still miss them, but a new environment can ease the intense feelings. If, instead, doing the same thing you always did with them comforts you, then do that. There is no one right answer, plus it may change from year to year. Honor yourself where you are each year a milestone comes around.
Ask for support.
It is not always easy to ask for help in the best of circumstances. When we are grieving it can be harder. If you would like someone to accompany you to visit your loved one’s grave for example, you can do that. If you want their silent support, tell them that. A friend is always grateful to know how they can help. If they have not experienced a significant loss themselves, they may not be sure of the best way to help. Making your needs known helps you and them.
Realize that your experience will change with time.
Some years you will feel like your loss happened yesterday. Other years you will receive insights that provide you with a new level of understanding. This will not happen in any particular order. Grief is a changeable journey. Your willingness to be with it as it arises will help you relax and remind you that you are not regressing. Remember, all healing happens in a relaxation response.
This is a time to be diligent with your self-care rituals. Read more about Radical Self-Care here. Include extra self-care to help with relaxation. To this day, when I feel stressed my grief is closer to the surface. Become familiar with your own grief triggers and learn what works for you to help ease them.