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One is The Loneliest Number - The First's After a Loss

One of the most challenging aspects of losing someone in our lives is all those Firsts that come flying at us – the first time their birthday rolls around when they are no longer there to celebrate it, the first time the holidays come, and the first anniversary of their passing.

But other dates and events can be jarring or even devastating, too: • Your parents’ anniversary when one or both are gone. • Mother’s Day or Father’s Day (my blog posts on these are here and here). • First family vacation without them. • A life milestone (communion, graduation, wedding, etc.) that they have missed. • Or even the first time that show you both loved comes on TV, or a favorite song or movie you shared.

All of these can just wipe you out with their intensity and sadness. So I would like to share some experience, tips and reminders for coping with this emotional roller coaster.

When we know That Date is coming, it gets built up in our hearts and minds. The dreading of it can be very heavy, for sure. I remember not just the first, but also the first several anniversaries of my mother’s death – March 19 seemed SO huge on the calendar, I thought it would leap out and attack me. It truly felt like it was stalking me…even in my dreams.

In that first year, time might still be very wonky and strange, when you feel like your head is in a bubble and the hours and days pass very slowly. And that includes that First Year date – will it ever show up? What will it feel like? Will I feel better? Worse? Nothing? You can make yourself crazy trying to put your finger on it.

So then the day comes – you wake up and see that date on your calendar. It’s here. You may not want to get out of bed. You may want to hide and take the day off. I get that and I know it hurts. But just pulling the covers over your head will just make the day pass slower. Stick to your routine.

Remember, in grief as in all things, you can only take things One Minute at a Time. Congratulate yourself for the little victories – shower – coffee – stretch – get to work. You did all that? Very excellent. You didn’t manage? That’s alright, you are still okay.

You may have to fight tears at work – that’s ok. You may snap at someone without meaning to – that’s ok. Apologize and keep going. Your focus may be off and your memory faulty – that’s ok. Acknowledge the fact, explain what is happening to folks and keep going.

Keep Breathing.

When you do make it home from work, you can release all those emotions. You can also make time to honor your loved one with a candle, a prayer, writing them a letter – anything that feels appropriate. Share stories, call a relative, make their favorite dish. The possibilities are endless.

Just to add a sideline here, as I always do – not every loss is this straightforward. This person may have left damage and trauma in their wake and in your life. My take on this is that people often leave complex legacies, and that one should not feel obligated to celebrate someone out of reflex, if there is hurt, anger, resentment, damage, etc., in the mix. Do not be afraid to seek help if triggers get flipped during this time. Take care of YOU.

Once that date passes and that First-ness has gone, you might be shocked at the tremendous relief you experience. But you got through it, so do feel good about that – this is not easy stuff!

Of course, everyone deals with all emotion and all loss in very different ways. If this day was hard for someone else, but less so for you, do treat them with compassion – some folks really do struggle and their pain and suffering should not be dismissed or invalidated. Kindness is always an excellent choice.

The good news is that those First’s only come once for each loss. As we get older, more losses will occur – it is just the way of the world. As that happens, the process will become familiar – but maybe not easier.

So just a few final thoughts - If you find yourself getting worked up in anticipation of one of those First’s, take a deep breath. Acknowledge that this is very tough stuff. Then find a way to express your emotions that doesn’t involve too many breakables. Don’t focus on it 24/7, distract yourself – the day will come soon enough – and it will also go.

When things are heightened and your heart is still hurting, it is easy to get caught up in these anniversaries. Don’t forget – at the end of the day, you are still here. To love and laugh and cry and walk and BE – to live life to the fullest. So as the anniversaries roll by, go have dinner with friends, call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, go practice a favorite hobby, or just breathe deeply of the clear night air. It’s good to remind ourselves that the suffering cannot hold sway – live your joy – and it will help you heal.

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