C.O.P.E.-ing with Anniversaries
Adapted from “Handling the Holidays” by B.H. Conley
Today is the total of our yesterdays – we are who we are and where we are today because all of our life’s experiences have brought us to this point. This being so, our future is paved with reminders, mementoes and anniversaries of what was before. There are the big occasions that everyone acknowledges – Christmas, Easter, public holidays and celebrations. There are the smaller family remembrances - anniversaries and birthdays, holidays shared, and there are the ones that are hidden away in our own heart’s knowledge that only we and the one who has died would be aware of – the day we met, that day of the diagnosis, the day we realised that death was inevitable.
When someone we love dies, each week brings a fresh cycle of remembrance – we literally number the weeks since that inescapable moment of death. And then the months – the date rolls round again… one month… 2 months… 4… 6… 9 months. And interleaved with them are birthdays, anniversaries, a new grandchild (“… the first since you died”) – a son becomes engaged (“.. and his wife will never know you”.) Special events that you would have celebrated together which all contain the memory of “the last time this happened…”
That life goes on after the death of a loved one is unavoidable. That it brings fresh pain, fresh grief amid the memories of the memories of the past is perhaps also unavoidable – indeed it is part of the healing process. But there are things we can do to lessen the pain, ways by which we can face those special days without fear, ways in which we can create new special memories built on those of the past.
Think of the word COPE. It means, according to Webster’s dictionary – “to deal with problems, troubles, etc.”, and that is what we do every day to the best of our ability as we move through the grieving process. As we deal with the days that hold special memories for us, whether happy of sad, we can use the word to help us by making an acronym from its letters.
Thus we can:
Clear our minds. Allow ourselves to cut through the fears and apprehensions – to recognise and accept that the anniversary is coming. Even if we try to pretend that it’s not there – it is. The day will come.
Organise or order our thoughts, our feelings. Talk it through with someone we can trust – or write it all down first if that makes it easier. Talk with others who are involved and listen to their point of view. Work it through until we feel on firmer ground and then…
Plan what we are going to do for the day. This might mean spending time alone or with friends/family, keeping a tradition or doing something quite different. It may even mean planning not to plan, to leave it until the day, and that’s fine, as long as it is a conscious decision. It is important, however to try to involve the one who has died in the day in some special way – lighting a candle, going to the graveside, having a time of sharing memories – the possibilities are endless – acknowledging the specialness of the day and what it meant to us both/all. We need to remember too to communicate – others may well be making plans for us. With communication, compromise is always possible but making plans which will go some way towards meeting our need is vital.