I can reflect on my own grief journey after losing our son, that each anniversary of his birth and death can be an annual moment that is fraught with turmoil. Our son died the day he was born, which leaves this day as a huge vortex of emotion for us.
Birthdays are supposed to celebrated right? And the anniversary of someone passing is supposed to be a pausing point for reflection, a moment to grieve, right? For us it’s all blended together.
In my experience (and in the experience of many others) I find the lead up to these anniversaries can be the most anxious period of time. Your mind recalls every event, every step, every moment. Unavoidably, you mentally walk yourself through the timeline in the lead up. Pausing to deliberate on each specific moment. The questions start circling In your mind, the what if moments.
- What if I had changed one small thing?
- What if this has never happened?
- Where would we be now?
Time starts to distort as you ruminate and circle back.
You try to continue with life as normal in the lead up, except now you’re wearing a mask. Pretending you’re fine, surely enough time has passed. Yet feeling yourself drawn into the time warp that pulls you toward that date. For me it feels like a contracted space, a place where I start to curl within, shutting everything else out.
Welcome to the rollercoaster ride of emotion in the lead up to an anniversary. Hold on for the ride.
Reliving grief can feel like an isolated and lonely experience that happens within, separate from the external world that surrounds you. But, in actual fact, almost every person on this earth has experienced some form of grief and will have some dates in their mind that pull them like gravity into this loop. A moment, a place, where suddenly we find ourselves frozen in time.
How sad, how disconnected it is, that although all of us at some point will walk the pathway of grief, each of us feel alone in our journey.
The reaction to curl inward, block others out, close the doors or hide is the natural inclination. Perhaps it’s the raw shame of our own vulnerability as we try to navigate. Perhaps it’s simply a self-protection mechanism to heal the wounds within.
Either way, to walk this path each year we must build courage, resilience and grace so that we can walk a pathway toward open hearts. To give others permission to journey their own grief with open hearts, rather than behind the hidden confines of closed doors.
Here are my favourite steps toward navigating each anniversary. Each person has their own pathway and perhaps some of these ideas might help you.
Number one. Acceptance.
Understand that no matter how fast you run or how you try to hide, there will be a period of time in the lead up to this anniversary that will be challenge you, will stretch you and will feel like inward suffering that no one else can see. You cannot skip a past this date or press fast forward. Take a deep breath, accept where you are about to travel, dive in and know that you will make it to the other side.
Number two. Take time out.
There are many unhealthy ways of dealing with anniversaries. Some of these can include numbing your emotions with alcohol or different addictions. Others include building a wall of resentment, blame or anger around your aching heart.
A healthy habit that we have developed over the years is to ensure that we simply take one week around our sons birthday where no one can contact us.
Taking time out from your everyday life can give you the space to breathe. To allow yourself those moments of turmoil to simply be as they are without the need to fix anything or explain yourself to others.
Timeout might include nurturing yourself with nature, a beautiful view. It might be a chance to do nothing and allow yourself simply to be, rather than filling your time with doing in attempt to escape. Timeout might include lying in the grass looking at the clouds, breathing fresh air, saying a prayer or enjoying a beautiful meal. Ensuring this dedicated time that is locked out in your diary in advance gives you the space you need.
Number three. Honouring your journey.
Each year on Baxter’s birthday we climb a mountain. Symbolic of our journey together, the hardships we have felt form the steady climb upward. Matched only by the beauty of the views as you head toward the top. Grief and love. Heartache and joy. Heart breaking and heart opening. The mirror image of each other, two sides of the same coin reflected in our mountain climb.
We are fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to climb many mountains over the last eight years to honour our sons life. New Zealand, Tasmania, Bhutan, the Queensland hinterland all of which have provided us with a beautiful day of remembrance.
Choosing to step outside your ordinary life and honour your loved one on the anniversary date in a way that is special to you is an essential step toward navigating your grief journey with an open heart.
Ideas could include lighting a candle, listening to music, planting a tree, writing a journal or taking a walk on the beach. Writing a letter to your loved one that includes the words of thanks. It might include a gathering with supportive friends and family. It might include artwork or creativity. It might include a moment to give to others who are also walking your path in the form of a charity.
Either way choosing something that is special to you that honours your loved one on their day of remembrance can be a way to help you navigate through.
I hope these ideas give you the support you need to navigate your anniversary. It can feel lonely, but you are not alone.
Like to learn more from Niky?
Don’t forget she runs resilience retreats and programs for women who are navigating life challenges or grief.
Find out more about her Rise UP women’s retreats here!
Find out more about transforming grief here.