Thursday, April 25, 2019

After the 6th Anniversary: Grief in Transition

I thought I should spend time with mementos of my son’s life before the sixth anniversary of his death so I would feel more attuned when the day came. Then why did I have to drag my feet toward a closet whose box of artifacts still feels radioactive? Why did I feel for weeks afterward like I was walking through water rather than air? And why did I avoid going to the cemetery?
I thought my husband and I should spend March 19 away from home like we have for the past several years--walking the beach with our dogs, writing Noah’s name in the sand, looking at photos, trying to relax. Then why could I barely get out of bed all day, my stomach too queasy to walk or eat? An alien weather system had swooped in and immobilized me, as if to say: Stop. Enough mourning. Let it be.

Noah died a week before Passover in 2013 and I thought that by now, the holiday was no longer so weighted by our loss. Especially when it came a full month after the anniversary in this year's lunar Jewish calendar; I thought I was emerging from the depths. Then why couldn’t I stop crying at public events the week before our family’s Seder? When I finally realized it was a week before Passover, I could calm myself. I went outside, closed my eyes, and tilted my face to the sun, listening to the swish of palm trees not far from where Noah first learned to surf.

I thought a bereaved mother should think about her lost child more often than I do. That when people say, “I think about him every day,” even after the first few years of suicide loss, they must be exaggerating. What does it mean to always have a dead loved one in your heart? No matter what you’re thinking or doing, grief is a stowaway in your veins. The pain of losing that person is lodged in your steps, your gut, your breath.

I read that remembering can be an act of mindfulness: holding someone or something in your awareness, letting remembrance inform your life or letting it be. That’s what happened when I was making chocolate chip cookies for a memorial meal for Noah last month and flashed on how I used to make those cookies to greet Noah and his brother Ben whenever they came home from trips or from college. I made those cookies with love when Noah was alive; now I make them with love in his memory. I felt wistful and peaceful simply keeping Noah in mind as I baked.
My grief is in transition. I find myself resisting the things I used to do or thought I should do as a mourning mom and suicide loss survivor. How I’ve marked anniversaries up to now with intentional mourning and rituals and writing may no longer work. With the fading of the intensity of the first few years, the ground of my grief is in flux. I’m bereft—and confused.

Maybe it’s time to release the “should’s” and play it by ear, listening to the body’s cues. 

To my fellow survivors: How do you notice your grief shifting over time? Have you made changes in how you mark birthdays and anniversaries or do the same rituals continue to bring you comfort? What "should's" are you carrying as a loss survivor that you can let go of now?

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