Coping with a Grief Anniversary

Today is the most difficult, emotionally weird day of the year for me: the anniversary of my Dad’s death. I still find the whole series of events really difficult to talk about so instead I want to talk about getting through a grief anniversary and maybe even making something of it.

I’d never thought of us as a family that couldn’t talk about things but for some reason, it always felt really difficult to talk about Dad. No one person made it that way; I think it was just because the emotions were so big, no one knew how to navigate them, especially around other people. And because Dad didn’t live with us, it was relatively easy to slide straight back into normal routines because while there was this huge emotional hole, there wasn’t a physical one. So it just became easier to avoid the subject than engage with it. And after a while, it somehow became the new normal, something that I kind of hate when I look back at that time. I wish we hadn’t let that happen, even if I don’t know how it would’ve been possible to cope any other way.

For a while, we tried to do things on the 16th May. On the first anniversary, we went up onto the South Downs and played frisbee as a family – nothing intense or overly emotional, just something that we did together. But the tradition didn’t last very long. We were all very aware of the date and what it meant but I think it just hurt all of us too much to actually do anything about it; just surviving it was hard enough.

For a long time I just couldn’t even think about him because it hurt too much but at some point, he started creeping back into my consciousness, in more than a fleeting-painful-thought kind of way, even though it was still painful. But slowly it was more than just painful and I guess I stopped pushing it away as fast as possible. Because even though it hurt and made me sad, there came a point when I needed to think about him. It was important.

Almost everyday, there’s something that makes me think of my Dad, of a memory we made together or a memory we could’ve made had we had the opportunity: a TV show that he would’ve liked; something superhero related; when I FaceTime each of my parents, I wonder what it would have been like to have him to FaceTime too; seeing girls with their dads at concerts; something animal related or space related because he used to give us books on them and we’d look at all the pictures together; something wolf related because they were my favourite animal and he used to draw them for me… And then there’s the constant wondering because I know so little about him. I was only thirteen when he died and I wasn’t thinking about how long I had with him, how I only had a limited time to learn everything I could about him. Why would I have been?

A lot has changed over time and the family dynamics have obviously changed since we’ve moved into different houses, even different cities. Recently, my Mum and I have tentatively started doing something each year on the anniversary of his death, even if it’s something small. For example, on the first anniversary after we moved into the new house, we bought some wisteria plants for the garden, the flowers of which we both get great joy from. We liked the idea of having reminders of him around us, even if it was in indirect ways. Only one plant has survived but it’s growing well and that feels really special.

Last year, I ordered a poster of the Justice League that I found on Etsy. Justice League was a TV show we (my Dad, my brother, and I) watched obsessively together and he’s the one who got me into superheroes, something I’ve avoided for a long time but came back to fairly recently because they make me feel close to him, rather than just making me feel painfully aware of his absence. Superheroes and the surrounding stories and mythologies are now somewhat of a common thread in my life, in my writing, and in my view of the world and that’s something I got from him. That is his legacy to me so the poster felt like an appropriate purchase to make on that day.

We’re creating positive memories – or we’re trying to, at least – to associate with him, even if he isn’t here anymore to be a part of them.

I haven’t decided what to do this year, not yet. Life has been fairly chaotic and my brain has been very full: of last semester’s work, of the upcoming semester’s work, the migraine that swallowed up almost a week of my life… So I’m not sure how I’m going to commemorate the day this year but I’ll figure it out. With all the research into him and his family history, I feel like it should be something to do with that but I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet. I feel like there’s this weird pressure to get it ‘right.’

Ultimately we all deal with grief in our own way. I’ve read a lot about grief, about the five stages of grief, about the seven stages of grief… And in the context of those, I don’t really know where I am. Most of the time, I still feel frozen on that day, like I haven’t dealt with it at all. There was never really any anger or bargaining and yes, there’s been depression but that’s an incredibly complex issue for me and one I’m pretty sure can’t just be attributed to processing grief. Having said all of that, sometimes I do feel like I’m moving forward: I write songs about him, superhero stuff is a big part of my life, me and Mum have been talking to anyone we can to find out more about him before all of those stories get lost in time. I want to know who he was. I want to know where I came from. And, although it’s probably not super healthy to dwell on, I want to know what my life might have been like had I had him for longer. I can’t help thinking about it, at least from time to time.

Grief is so complicated, possibly the most complicated emotional process that we can experience as human beings. It takes on so many different forms, is attached to so many different circumstances, and even when the situation is the same, two people rarely feel it the same way. But that’s a discussion for another day. I just wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about grief anniversaries and my experience and… I don’t know… talk about all of this in a way that felt… okay. I don’t know. I don’t really know what I’m doing here today but I needed to write something and this is what I wrote.

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