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It's Almost Been A Year

Guest melissa mahan

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Guest melissa mahan

June 30,2005 will be 1 year since our baby brother who was 20yrs old left this world. All the progress I thought I was making, now I'm not sure at all that I've actually made any. It seems to be getting harder right now seems to be going in reverse. It's like the pain is all coming back is this normal and how do you deal with this day ahead of us? Please any advise would be helpful.

Joey Big Sister Melissa

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My dear Melissa,

I'm so sorry to learn of the death of your beloved brother. Your question is an important one, and I am sharing with you the same response I posted to two other visitors to these forums nearly a year ago, both of whom asked the very same question as yours :

As you approach the first anniversary of the death of your loved ones, please know that it is not at all unusual that your feelings of grief will seem to be reawakened as the anniversary dates draw near.

In hopes that it will help you make sense of what you are feeling, I'm pasting into this message one of the lessons I wrote for an online e-mail course on grief (if you're interested, you can read more about the entire course by clicking on Course Overview, The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey).

Please know that I am thinking about you and holding you in my heart at this sad and difficult time.

Course Title: The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey

Lesson # 22: Setbacks, Aftershocks and the Recurrence of Grief by Marty Tousley

As you begin today's lesson, take a few moments to ponder the quotation below:

One of my most painful, hurtful, appalling experiences occurred the first time I went to the grocery store after Robby died . . . Every shelf, every aisle reminded me of my dead son. Either the item was something he hated or something he loved. Green beans and hot dogs and peanut butter sent stabs of pain through me.

-- Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, The Bereaved Parent

In our last lesson you learned how grieving patterns among family members can differ according to personality, gender and age. This lesson discusses how to cope with continuing reminders of your loss.

"Sometimes I think I'm doing okay—then something happens and I can't seem to do anything right. I don't have any self-confidence anymore."

Setbacks are the unexpected but inevitable frustrations and disappointments you'll encounter in your efforts to rebuild following your loss. They include statements from family members or friends which, intentionally or not, discourage your efforts. They can be your own internal thoughts, feelings and attitudes which have inhibited and debilitated you in the past: rigidity, closed mindedness, self-doubt, bitterness, anger, disappointment, and the temptation to quit. Or they can be external roadblocks stemming from natural occurrences or from bureaucratic rules and regulations you'll encounter along the way.

Accept that setbacks are a reality of life over which you have no control. Remember that, although you cannot choose what life has to offer, you can always choose how to respond. The attitudes you bring to life's circumstances are always within your control. You can choose to give up and give in, or you can choose to take charge of your life and to keep moving forward.

"As I drove along a lonely stretch of road the other day, I heard our favorite song on the radio and it kept me crying for miles. I thought I was done with all this crying."

Aftershocks happen when some of the "down" feelings you've already experienced in grief come at you again several months after the death, or even after a year or more. Sometimes something acts as a trigger and catches you by surprise: a song, a place, a movie or a season, and it's as if you're confronted with the death for the first time, all over again. Painful emotions crash in upon you, and it feels as if you're starting the entire grief process anew.

Know that aftershocks of grief are normal, and they will pass more quickly each time you experience them. They can be controlled somewhat by controlling the reminders of your loss, either by disposing of them or deliberately seeking them out. Maintain a balance between what you hold onto and what you let go of. Keep what's special or of sentimental value and when you're ready, discard the rest.

Even though some time has passed, are you still feeling frightened and confused, all this time expecting that your grief would have been resolved by now?

If anything, does it sometimes feel as if your pain has intensified?

Recurrence of grief is common and normal, but disturbing nonetheless. Although the strong feelings of grief are not continuous, they can return at any time, whenever you are reminded of your loss. They may be especially apparent toward the end of your first year, as you approach the anniversary date of your loved one's death. As the anniversary of your loss draws near, you may find yourself preoccupied with thoughts of your loved one's diagnosis, treatment and care, remembering your experience of facing a terminal illness together.

Rest assured that what you're feeling is normal and to be expected. You are not losing ground; the progress you've made is real. Getting past this anniversary is but another significant step in finding your way through grief. At this point it is only natural to look back and reflect on what used to be before you can let go of it, move on through your grief, and embrace whatever your life is going to be in the future.

"Is there anything I can do to prepare myself for this anniversary date?"

Be aware that oftentimes the anticipation of an anniversary date is worse than the actual day. Identify those days, events and seasons that are likely to intensify and rekindle your pain, and build comfort and healing into them. Plan what you're going to do ahead of time, even if you plan to be alone. Don't set yourself up for a bad day. Let your friends and relatives know in advance which days and events are significant for you. Verbalize your needs and include them in your plans. They may be very willing to help, but need for you to tell them how.

As this first year draws to a close, plan a memorial ritual. Draw on those familiar, comforting ceremonies and activities unique to your religion, culture, traditions, family or way of life. Use this ritual as your rite of passage through grieving to healing, to mark a shift in the way you mourn, or as an official end to this first year of mourning.

If you're feeling anxious, confused or immobilized as a certain date or time approaches, get the reassurance you need by returning to your support group or speaking with your bereavement counselor.

"I have so many unhappy memories; how can I ever shut them off?"

Handle your memories with care. If they are painful and unpleasant, they can be hurtful and destructive. If they create longing and hold you to the past, they can interfere with your willingness to move on. You can choose which parts of life you shared that you wish to keep and which parts you want to leave behind. Soothe your pain by thinking of happy as well as sad memories. The happiness you experienced with your loved one belongs to you forever. Hold onto those rich memories, and give thanks for the life of the person you've lost instead of brooding over the last days. Build "memory time" into the day, or pack an entire day with meaning. It's easier to cope with memories you've chosen than to have them take you by surprise. Immerse yourself in the healing power of remembrance. Go to a special place, read aloud, listen to a favorite song. Celebrate what once was and is no more.

"I don't think about my loved one as often as I used to — does that mean I'm letting the one who died slip away?

Letting go of what used to be is not an act of disloyalty, and it does not mean forgetting your lost loved one. You will never forget, because a part of this person remains in you. Letting go means leaving behind the sorrow and pain of grief and choosing to go on, taking with you only those memories and experiences that enhance your ability to grow and expand your capacity for happiness.

As you've already discovered, you're never really finished with loss when someone significant leaves you. This loss will resurface during key developmental periods for the rest of your life. You will have to face it again and again, not as the person you are today, but as the person you will have grown to be in two or five or twenty years from now. Each time you will face it on new terms, but it won't take as long and it won't be as difficult.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T


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