The people who sell anniversary cards have a lot answer for. I’m looking at you, Hallmark.
There is no such thing as an anniversary card for a really fucking terrible anniversary. Like rape, a traumatic car accident, the death of a child, or a suicide. But when a year rolls by and sure enough you are having an anniversary of that really terrible thing, feelings happens.
Feelings that can be miserable in their own right. Feelings that remind you of what it was like whenever whatever it was happened. Feelings that have the power to overwhelm you. Or numb you.
Get thee to a counselor, if so.
It can become confusing on what is the good or the “right” way to deal with these feelings. What are we even supposed to feel at these times—that some positive progress has been made, or some imaginary point of good mental health has been achieved, a way station between transitional emotional states is found? Or are we just supposed to forget?
Forgetting doesn’t happen.
(Well, unless whatever it is gets repressed, but that’s a different post.)
Maybe if people stopped trying to explain away their feelings (or lack thereof), something good could happen. Simply accepting whatever your feelings are is a great first step. That means not trying to change your feelings, or analyze them even, or move beyond them, or freeze dry them inside your own personal emotional freezer, but just accept that on this crappy day of a terrible event you feel whatever it is that you feel. And you don’t fight it.
Because if you stop fighting it maybe you can learn to accept it.
Anniversaries commemorating loss don’t really sound like anniversaries though. Anti-versary isn’t likely to catch on with people. Unless it does–and if so–I’m awesome. So, what can we call the day in question? It is more of an observance than anything else, I think. The word observance suggests some mindfulness, which is always a good thing. But that leads to another difficulty. You may have a healthy or getting healthier way of dealing with the anti-versary for yourself, but that doesn’t mean others do. And we have to deal with that as well.
As a rule, my blogs have been more topical and guidebook related than personal, except the two previous posts on suicide. I stopped writing about the suicide because my intent was not to garner or generate sympathy. I wrote about it because I wanted to share my process and maybe articulate that counselors are shockingly just like other people when it comes to grief and loss. But I felt I needed to stop writing about it because I didn’t want the posts to be misconstrued to be more about me than the suicide, and suicide in general. I don’t know if I really succeeded in that. I’ve had clients bring up those specific posts and be told they were helpful in deciding to seek counseling with me. I have also been told that other professional counselors saw the posts as, for simplicity’s sake, attention seeking.
Some times it is maybe too easy for others to hear the word suicide and rush in and try to judge or rescue.
So what do people want when the anti-versary comes knocking?
Honesty I think is a good one. People want to have their feelings validated and accepted. Even if they are awful feelings to possess, like fear or sadness, or even hate.
When something terrible happens to us, or around us, there is often a cultural disposition to go into problem solving mode. This can take form in many ways: people bring food (because eating your way out of a problem always works), people bring booze (because drinking your way out of a problem always works), people bring their idea of a solution (because feelings are a problem! And need to be fixed!!), whereas what people might really need is for someone to just shut up and listen to them.
Listening about bad news is hard. Our feelings, and our defenses, and our own excuses all come to the surface, and soon it becomes more about us than them. Give yourself a timeout if that happens.
So be available and listen to your loved one who is grieving about whatever it is the anti-versary of. Because chances are they want you to be there for them too.
And that’s nice.