Getting Through Special Days
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
I’m amazed at how miserable we are able to make ourselves. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with loss, but the added burden of a calendar full of land mines can just send us over the top when we think about getting through the first few years of a major loss.
We feel worse on Mother’s Day, if that’s even possible, after our children have died. We miss our mothers on that same day if they are no longer with us. Valentine’s Day can bring a sad reminder of a love lost. If a loved one dies on a holiday we might never want to enjoy that day again. New Year’s Day reminds us that the life we knew is over and Thanksgiving begs us to look for things we are grateful for, even when we are not feeling grateful at all. Any day that used to bring fond memories of times past can be full of torment when that day rolls around.
Our culture sets us up with high expectations for celebration only to have joy taken from us. The calendar can be our worst enemy. Days jump off the pages almost as if they are daring us to try to enjoy ourselves with others and make the most of a difficult time. I wonder if we actually come to dread these special days even more than we used to look forward to them.
One of my housemates is a man with Alzheimer’s disease. He is completely void of painful days. He just lives each day as it comes. He was not the least bit disturbed because his kids didn’t call him on his birthday and won’t care if they don’t send him a Father’s Day card. He knows them in the moments when they are with him and experiences love when it is showered on him. He has no regrets. Some days I think I want to be like that, but without having to have Alzheimer’s.
I was listening to National Public Radio the other day and a reporter was telling of his experience with a tribe of indigenous people living deep in the Amazon far from civilization. We might think they are missing a lot. No T.V. No shopping centers. No cell phones. But they also may not be burdened as we are by the trappings or expectations of “special days”. l’ll bet they have never heard of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or even Christmas. Therefore they wouldn’t be troubled by them.
Amnesia sounds like it might be the best solution for getting through these difficult times but it would then mean we would not get to remember joy.
At a support group meeting after Mother’s Day I asked one of the bereaved mothers whose baby had died this past year how the day went. She said it went fine. “I decided I wanted to be sad and I was.” I asked her how that felt. “It felt good,” she replied. She also asked her husband to give her something to remind her that she was a good mother because she knew that was a stumbling block for her in her grief. He made her a little card that she could tuck into her wallet and on it was an ultrasound picture of their baby and a message of love. It was available for her to pull out any time she needed a reminder of what a good mother she had been to her baby. The day went well for her because she planned for how she wanted it to be. If she can do it, so can I.
So here’s a list of what I’ve learned about how I can make the most of these special days:
I have to keep reminding myself that my loved ones didn’t die just so that I would be miserable.
The days leading up to the special day are usually worse than the actual day.
I don’t assume others in my family will feel the same way I do. We all grieve in our own ways and we all experience these special days differently. Neither way is right or wrong.
If I want something to happen I must let others know rather than set them up for failure.
I can’t and don’t expect anyone else to remember birthdays or death days. (But I’m overjoyed when they do.)
This day will come again next year. I might be able to do it differently the next time around.
I can forgive myself and others if I or they don’t meet my expectations.
I can take care of myself and plan for what I want that day to be.
I can remind myself: it’s just one day, and then it will be over.
The circumstances of your life don’t dictate the outcome. You do.