Anniversaries of loss sometimes have a way of creeping up on us. Often times, around the same time each year, I notice myself getting a little sad or a little grumpy, and I can’t think why… And then at some point it occurs to me that it is once again the anniversary of my mother’s death. Several years after her death, my older brother used to make a point of reminding the other three of us, that it was that time again. His way of doing it, was often by e-mail, asking what flavor of ice cream we would have in celebration of her memory. Having slowly died from a brain tumor, Mom would often end dinner with, “Wouldn’t tonight be a nice night for ice cream?” in a tone that implied she really hadn’t asked that same question every night for the past year. We would all chuckle, humor her, and have ice cream once again. I used to hate the reminders; my brother’s intentions were good, but as far as I was concerned, “out of sight, out of mind.” Why would I want to experience sadness?
But even before he began the yearly reminders, the sadness was there around that time of year. Perhaps it seeped out more subtly, or inexplicably, but it was there- whether I wanted it or not. And now, I am more okay with the sadness… it’s part of a process of grieving, that is possibly life-long. Because let’s face it, I will never have my mother back and nobody will ever replace her. The DSM-IV-TR is the “gold standard” for psychiatric diagnoses, including the diagnosis of “bereavement.” According to the DSM, we have 6 months to grieve. What a joke! Different people grieve different relationships at different paces. And sometimes the process simply unfolds, as the person is ready for it, through the course of a lifetime.
About 10 years after my mother passed, I was walking with a friend and saw forsythia plants in full bloom. Somewhat sealed off from my grief, I told this friend about how my Mom loved forsythia and planted it all over a hill, where I begrudgingly had to mow around these plants. Within the next few days, it occurred to me that it was again- anniversary time. But this anniversary, I was ready. Overwhelmed with grief, I called my friend. She arrived with a vase full of forsythia that she had cut. Touched by her gesture, and immersed in grief and memories, I balled and experienced a sense of release.
And now when late March hits, I still experience sadness, but it is not so overwhelming, and I am not so distanced from it. I neither avoid it, nor wallow in it. When I feel like embracing the bittersweet past, its time for mocha almond (her favorite). And when I feel like honoring how I’ve evolved, its time for a new flavor. Either way, I am celebrating my mother’s memory, being true to what I am experiencing, and letting the feelings come and go as we move into another spring.