by Anne Peterson
We glance at the calendar and notice the day is approaching. A feeling of dread starts surfacing. How will we make it through another birthday of our loved one? Isn’t a birthday a celebration of the person’s life. We don’t feel like celebrating. Birthdays are reminders of how old the person was, and all that stopped one day.
It’s hard grieving a loved one to be sure. Anniversary dates make it even more difficult. How can we face anniversary dates without dread? Is it possible to get through them without white knuckling it?
I can honestly say, without God in my life, I don’t think I could have gone through my sister’s disappearance for all these years. Loss after loss, God has taught me he is the only constant thing in my life. Everything else is subject to change. And I don’t like a lot of the changes. Actually, I have trouble with any change, but I’m learning.
God promises he will never leave me in Hebrews 13:5. He is the one who enables me to get through the difficult things in my life. He truly understands how I feel. When you’ve lost a loved one, it’s normal to miss them. Anniversary days are even more difficult. You can’t share your life with a loved one and be the same if suddenly they are gone. It’s natural to feel a longing for them.
When both my mother and father were gone I came across a verse I felt was written just for me. Psalm 27:10. “When your father and your mother forsake you, I will take you up.” God became what I needed. He would sometimes provide other people in my life who would help when I was struggling. And sometimes I just felt peace that I knew had to be from him. Peace that didn’t make any sense.
Following the disappearance of my sister in September, 1982, I entered a waiting room and to some degree am still in it. We never reclaimed her body. There are still questions that remain unanswered. And there is still pain. Anniversary dates have been hard. Christmas, Thanksgiving, her birthday. I feel like those days have become less difficult. Don’t get me wrong, they are still hard, but it feels like I am enjoying other things more which makes it easier. There are times I wondered if I would ever feel happy again. A part of me used to think I couldn’t enjoy my life since she wasn’t here to live hers. Of late I have thought, If I was the one gone, I wouldn’t want my loved ones to stop living.
We can make anniversary days good days.
I used to store my feelings and then let them all out on anniversary dates. I do not recommend this at all. When the special day would come, I found myself very depressed. My mom died when I was 16 years old. It was a sudden death which left us devastated. When November 4th rolled around I knew it would be a heavy day. One year I remember the dread, the heavy emotion, all of it. Later that day I realized it was November 3rd, not the anniversary day at all. I had spent the whole day depressed and it wasn’t even the right day! We give the actual days a lot of power.
I want to celebrate how much I love them, not how much I miss them. How much I miss them is understood.
April 15th will be here before I blink my eyes. April 15th, tax day to everyone. But to us, it’s also Peggy’s birthday. I used to be so sad on that day. Since the trial I make sure I touch base with family members just to kind of check in. I want to do something this year to honor her. I’m not certain what that will look like, but I know it will help.
We can change how we look at anniversary dates. We can decide how the day will go. True our emotions will be involved, but we can still make decisions about how much time will be devoted to sadness, or if the whole day will be consumed. Maybe you are in a place where the whole day would be sad, and that’s okay. I remember grieving for my mom and some days I found comfort in just rocking in the rocking chair we had bought her. I would sit and cry and let it out.
When we went through a trial for my sister I found a grief group. It wasn’t long before I realized that members of the group did care, but they couldn’t relate to me. My situation was different because we believed she was the victim of a homicide. So, I found a homicide group which met monthly. It was a group I could share with, cry with or just sit quietly with and feel safe. It helped knowing I was not in this alone. And when anniversary dates came each member was aware how difficult it was. I never felt I couldn’t share about my sister in that group.
We even brought pictures of our loved ones and passed them around. Before I found the support group, I found I would spontaneously share with anyone who would listen, and honestly, that didn’t work out very well sometimes. It’s not that I wanted to share with strangers, it’s just that it was inside and it would burst out. As I look back on that time I see, I was just bleeding all over the place.
When we lose loved ones, one of our fears is that our loved one will be forgotten. Find a trusted friend you can share with. Sharing even the smallest things can help. There are many people in the world who want you to just “move on.” They mean well, they want you to be happy. Some are unable to face their own mortality and we are reminders that life is not always easy. One of the reason we empathize is because we have gone through something difficult. Without our experiences maybe we wouldn’t know how to respond to someone who was hurting.
Write a letter to your loved one.
One thing that used to be difficult for me was that I could no longer talk to my sister. A counselor once suggested I write my sister 3 letters, with a week or two between each one. One letter would not have done it. Thinking back on that exercise, I remember I was reluctant at first. I mean, how could writing her help me. She couldn’t answer.
Still, I decided to give it a try. I found my first letter was flooded with anger. Anger about what had happened, anger that she had not confided in us sooner. Paragraphs upon paragraphs of anger. Feelings of helplessness sometimes turn into anger. Sometimes we’re angry we couldn’t have done something to prevent our loved one’s death. I had a lot to say to her in that first letter. While my second letter was still full of emotion, I noticed there was less anger. Could this actually be helping me?
By the time I wrote her the third letter, my tears just drenched the pages. This letter was full of grief and regret over the things we wouldn’t get to share. Writing her helped me. I believe this exercise would help even those who don’t like to write. Oh, and it was important that this be handwritten. If you choose to try this, write anything that comes in your mind, even if it’s something like:
“I don’t know why I’m writing this letter, I hate this.”
Just keep going. It will release some of the emotions within you.
Look around you.
I am not the only person who has lost a loved one, nor am I the only one who has lost a loved one to homicide. Maybe I can encourage someone else who is taking this journey. If I focus on someone outside myself, I tend to do better. It says in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that the God of all comfort, comforts us so we can comfort others. It’s not for us to be comfortable. The people who have really helped me the most in this journey have been those who have experienced hurt. They have something to say to me. And I, in turn might have something to say to others who are hurting. It also brings something good out of something bad.
If you have lost a loved one, I am really sorry for your loss. You will always miss your loved one, that doesn’t go away. But, somehow the other parts of your life begin to matter again. And things get a little better.
On April 15th, my sister would have been 57. I know we would have talked on that day, talked and laughed a lot. But, I’ll just have to wait for when I’ll see her again. And in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate her life. Celebrate that she was a good sister, a wonderful mom and someone I miss very much. Happy Birthday Peggy, I love you.
Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and author of 42 Bible studies and numerous articles with www.christianbiblestudies.com. To find out more about Anne or her poetry visit her website at www.annepeterson.com.