Horrible Grief Memories and Anniversary Reactions

February 23 is the sixth anniversary of my daughter’s death. I’m not looking forward to it. Just thinking about the day brings painful memories and images to light. At the time, my father-in-law was in the hospital and receiving treatment for pneumonia. My daughter, who admired him a lot, took a break from work to be with him.

He sat by his hospital bed and worked on his laptop. “She was here all night,” Dad declared, a statement that was not true, “and healed me.” But my daughter did not heal dad. In fact, she died two days before him from injuries she received in a car accident.

I can still see them both in my mind, dad smiling at his first grandson and my daughter smiling back. Although these images are painful, they are also comforting, because they represent love. How can we cope with the terrible memories and anniversaries of the death of a loved one?

Understanding the type of death is a starting point. Therese A. Rando, PhD, in her book How to go on living when someone you love diessays traumatic loss, the type I experienced, differs from the others. Grievance symptoms last longer, unfinished business persists, 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 over and over again helps us come to terms with stress, according to the article. To counteract these memories, we can give ourselves permission to repeat them, share our thoughts with others, and learn more.

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 accepting memories in his article, “The Six Reconciliation Needs of the Grief.” He describes needs as performance cues. The first sign is to recognize the reality of death and I have done it.

Then embrace the pain of loss and God knows I’ve felt enough pain. After the death of my daughter and father-in-law, my brother and the father of my grandchildren died, all within nine months. Performance sign number three is developing a new identity of its own. I had two new identities, guardian to my twin grandchildren and a grief writer.

Searching for a new meaning, sign number five, was easy due to my new identities. He 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 continued support from others, I am blessed. My extended family and a close circle of friends have been by my side throughout my grievance journey.

“Hope for continued life will emerge as you can engage with the future,” Wolfelt writes. I have found his statement to be true. Despite all the pain, I am in a good place in life. Are you struggling with horrible memories and anniversary reactions? I hope you find your new identity, grow out of 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, send an email to my grandson in Argentina, where he is studying, and meet with relatives. I will always be a heartbroken father and have learned that love is eternal. Love is really stronger than death.

Copyright 2013 by Harriet Hodgson

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