Some people say that getting through the first year of grief is the hardest. Why is that the case? One person theorized that it’s because it is the first experience of the event without the loved one. Your brain still thinks they are supposed to be there, and it hasn’t had a chance to file the absent-loved-one-experience into a memory.
The first time you face a birthday without them, the first special anniversary, or those first holidays, everything is different. You experience a unique pang, or a flood of emotions. Someone you used to share those events with is gone, and nothing will be the same as it was before. This is a tough reality to accept. You yourself are also different because of your sorrow.
Then the calendar turns to the date that you lost them. You’ve had a year to remember those moments, feel ups and downs and to adjust to the new “normal.”
It marks a turning point. You have to decide how to move forward from there. You may even do some self reflection, question the last year and ask yourself if you need to make changes. Before someone does that, however, they have to get through that first year… but how? HOW can we move forward without someone who was such a central part of our life?
I asked some friends who had suffered the loss of a loved one if they were willing to share some of their experiences in the hopes of helping others who are in a similar situation, and they graciously agreed.
One of them shared: “My mom passed on right before Thanksgiving 20 years ago. The first couple years were the hardest, then kind of bittersweet holidays for a couple years, but fairly quickly I started to remember the good things only that time of year. I know she would want it that way.”
Another wrote, “The first year’s (moments) were the worst, but the sense of returning normalcy in the 2nd year was frequently punctured by the grief, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes overwhelmingly.
Yes the special dates are hard, but surprisingly sometimes every day events could be hard, too. For me it has been learning how to live with the loss – the new reality – in each new circumstance and experience.”
Another individual had a similar reminder about how grief can show up in unexpected ways, “Giving yourself permission to feel emotion on the anniversary dates is important especially the first year. Oddly I thought my parent’s birthdays the first year would be tough but they ended up not being as tough as mine. On theirs I felt a gratitude for their lives and accomplishments. It was a peaceful sense of a celebrating a life well lived. On mine I felt a sense of being orphaned because the two people most excited about my birth and existence were no longer there to share that with me. Alzheimer’s took that remembering several years previous but after death there was an alone feeling I never would have expected.”
One person noticed that sometimes they felt guilty celebrating a special event that happened to fall on the anniversary of the day they lost a loved one. It is normal to feel conflicted. It can be hard to celebrate when someone who was central to your life is gone.
Another shared something that brought her comfort, “The Firsts are the hardest. It doesn’t get easier as much as coping changes. We try to focus on good memories of those who have passed. We celebrate things that bring a memory. For instance, both my grandparents died the same day, 9 years apart. It also happens to be Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas). I try to make something in the kitchen as that’s what I did with them. Or we talk of silly stories. My mother pays for the church flowers in their memory at this time of year, the closest Sunday to the date as it falls. Doing these things brings comfort and remembrance.”
A dear friend who lost her son and husband on the same day, years after the loss of another son, wrote these words, “I don’t believe the loss hits you right away. You go into a kind of safe place. I was blessed to be surrounded by the community and my church family. There is so much to do when someone dies; the phone calls, the arrangements for the funeral, the cemetery, the actual funeral. I believe in my heart, having buried my 3 men, that the first few days weren’t about me. They were about the people in my life who also wanted to celebrate the life of my loved ones. For me, after everything was done, around 4 months later the enormity of my loss hit. Waking up alone in the painful silence was more silence than my spirit could handle.”
So how do you cope with the silence, with the pain? My friend stated that it helped her to choose to stay active in her church and remember the amazing legacy her loved ones left behind.
Other shared things that brought them comfort and strength, including:
That being said, each person experiences grief in their own unique way and on their own schedule. What is true for someone else may not be true for you.
Some observed that even though the “firsts” had a unique pang to them, they were also surprised by unexpected grief, even years later. One individual said that 19 years later it is just as hard for her as the first year. These are further proof that each grief journey is unique.
Grief is not linear. It ebbs and flows with the days and the years, but you CAN learn to cope with it.
Once you get through that first year you still grieve, but you also will be empowered with the knowledge that you can survive. Hopefully you can even thrive, making new, happy memories as you also continue to find comfort in the memory of the one you loved. You will hold them close in your heart, knowing they will always be with you as you carry on.
The new you.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870