grief and birthdays
What can ease our hearts as we live with growing trepidation of an upcoming birthday, especially in the earliest years of bereavement? I remember a rising disquiet of the soul the first year after our daughter died as November 5 drew closer. Part of the joy of celebrating one we love are the days prior…finding a gift we hope gives them pleasure, baking favorite desserts, gathering family and friends together. All serve the intent of saying “we’re so glad you were born!”
Now bereft, a great emptiness emerges.
So common is the apprehension during anticipation of special days, the Mayo Clinic calls this reawakened grief an “anniversary reaction.” Like other grief resources, they encourage being prepared for this possibility by having a strategy to cope, such as connecting with others, writing a letter to your child, or starting a new tradition. An in-depth grief resource online www.opentohope.com offers an extensive list of thoughtful suggestions for strategies that families might find useful.
It seems that the challenge is finding a balance between intention, such as creatively planning how to face this day, and attention, staying open-hearted to receiving the serendipity surprises that days often bring.
For intention, Jim and I decided that we’d at least plan something special to do together on her birthdays. But we also were both teaching that first November 5. A student in my class wrote about her Dusty Strings small folk harp that she played for children in hospitals to lift their spirit. So on Krista’s birthday, I invited her to bring this wonderful white maple harp into my basement office. As she played “Morning Has Broken,” a beautiful hymn sung at Krista’s baptism and Memorial services, other faculty and students gathered around to hear more. A memorable moment of joy for all of us.
For intention, Mary Beth Baker, who loves to cook, often makes her son Stephen’s favorite lemon meringue pie on his birthday. After he was killed in a motorcycle accident, it gives her hands and heart a sweet way to ease the day. When her daughter’s 21st birthday loomed, Jan Skaggs invited Cameron’s friends to her favorite restaurant. “We gave them each a present from Cameron’s things, such as books she had underlined, favorite jewelry or scarves, music from her collection.” Rather than a time of depression, “Cameron’s birthday turned into a magical night of laughter, storytelling and appreciation for how friends loved her deeply.”
In Morning Has Broken, one of the verses says,
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play.
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s re-creation of the new day.
Living with Attentiveness
Living open-hearted, and recognizing surprising graces helps us experience the “re-creation of a new day.” In many ways, every day still calls us to find this balance of living between intention and attention…planning and setting goals, yet still living in attentive mindfulness to the day’s generous moments.
Our serendipity surprise came this week when a new family in our neighborhood dropped off a small pink box and card at our doorstep. Laura, a neighbor, helped her four children make us a delicious batch of raspberry oat bar cookies. They included a kind note in memory of Krista’s birthday. Such kindness lightens the day!
One November 5, always the start of a cold winter in Spokane, I stopped off at a local nursery. The staff person asked, “Do you want some roses? We’re giving them away because we don’t have time to plant them. No guarantees they’ll survive.” So I left with ten free rose bushes in yellows, apricots, cream, and gold. We planted and mulched them that very afternoon, with hopes the rockery might shield them enough to survive their first freezing winter. To our sheer delight, they’ve bloomed every summer since…nurtured with Jim’s compost (black gold, I call it) and love. When they shimmer in the morning sunlight, their exquisite beauty elates us and all the neighbors walking by.
The encouraging news in listening to parents describe their pilgrimage through loss is that major milestone days become easier. As one father described, “the edges in pain soften.”
What has your family done that eases the sorrow of this significant day? Or, have you brought kindness to a family remembering a loved one? Any surprises? I’d love to hear your experiences!