There was this kitschy FB image with a caption that said something like, “Hey! Remember 20 years ago when we were all so worried about Y2K and the computers zapping all our money away!? Haha! We were so silly then!”
In response, I wrote this note on Facebook:
Twenty years ago, in December 1999, I drove from Colorado to New Jersey to start therapy and healing from child sexual abuse.
Ten years ago, on January 2, 2010, I quit drinking and began a sober life.
One year ago today, I was ordained a Priestess of The Goddess, in a beautiful ceremony attended by friends and family.
My dears, please celebrate with me. My journey to being whole and healed is a twisty, winding path, and I am so grateful for all of it.
Sending you love this day.
It felt pretty important to me to share these milestones because it is important to remember milestones, to celebrate the little victories in life where you find them. Really, it’s important.
It occurred to me in a recovery meeting the other day, that The Pull Towards The Bottom Depths of My Emotion Ocean Which Occurs Like Clockwork Every December might not be merely Dread of Christmas. It might be anniversary grief. So many of my deepest transformations have happened in December.
Here is a good working definition of grief, from The Center for Loss & Life Transition:
The word “grief” is the simple shorthand we use for what is actually a highly complex mixture of thoughts and feelings. Grief is everything we think and feel inside after someone we love dies or leaves or something we are attached to goes away. In other words, grief is the instinctive human response to loss.
Grief is natural and necessary. … Grief is not something we choose or don’t choose. Rather, it is in our wiring. It is the normal and necessary journey we embark on after something we have valued no longer exists.https://www.centerforloss.com/grief/
If someone we love dies, we grieve. If a beloved pet dies, we grieve. If someone we love leaves us, we grieve. If something we value is taken away from us, we grieve. If circumstances we were comfortable with or attached to change, we grieve. In general, the stronger our attachment to the person or the thing, the stronger our grief will be.
You see, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not—and cannot—exist without the other. … People sometimes say that grief is the price we pay for the joy of having loved. If we allow ourselves the grace of love, we must also allow ourselves the grace of grief and mourning.
Anniversary grief is like regular grief, only it happens whenever there is a major holiday, or a yearly milestone like a birthday, deathday, or anniversary. Or a particular season, event, or cultural or family celebration. It could be the season opener for the Seahawks. It could be anything, really.
Which is to say, grief is cyclical. There are certainly acute symptoms of grief, which occur in the minutes, days, weeks, and months after the tragic event. There are also ongoing reminders of our losses, each year or special day as time passes. This is natural: you’re not going crazy if this is happening to you.
Then, there are “the firsts” — the first 4th of July without your mother in law, where all the children and grandchildren agree that we should all scatter Gramma J’s ashes at the lake, where she was happiest, on the 4th, which was when all her children and grandchildren were gathered. Instead, Grampa L, four weeks after his wife of 23 years died, is already shacking up with a (here, my philosophies of Not Slut-Shaming No Matter What and Trying to Feel Compassion for People are outright battling with my love of the words, “harlot,” “hussy,” and “widower-preying-on-cunt”) ahem, woman/new girlfriend. Grampa L, instead of scattering the ashes on his deceased wife’s land at the lake cabin, brings the woman to the lake cabin, cozily displays all kinds of affection like a smitten teenager, gets drunk, and yells at everybody for wanting the scatter the ashes in the first place. Whereupon, he gets firmly put in Grownup Timeout indefinitely. (It’s hard to describe exactly how much that sucked, but you get the idea. I have a lot of righteous anger and smug superiority about this event, which I should probably discuss in therapy or Be like Elsa: let it go.)
This was supposed to be a chipper post about how much I’ve grown in the last twenty years. It’s possible there’s more anger to let go of. More forgiveness to extend. More grief to grieve. It’s so difficult to hold onto your smug superiority and compassion at the same time. Now there are just awkward stares at family parties. It’s good. It will transform or it won’t. We’ll see.
Here are some resources about grief, in no particular order.
- David Kessler’s site Grief.com has great resources. I met him when I worked at hospice in NYC.
- Open to Hope
- The Dougy Center is a resource for grieving children and their parents.
- Here’s an ad-free PDF version of a good article on Help Guide.
Be kind to each other out there.