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Marking Milestones

by Leandra Walker

We humans tend to measure our days by predictable events. Holidays like Easter or Passover, special family days like birthdays and anniversaries. Something as personal as "we always went to the beach on THAT weekend." Or something as nationally recognized such as Independence Day - picnics & fireworks together.

When you lose the one you love, those days can be misery. Or they can be a healing reminder of all the wonderful things you shared. It depends on how you plan to face them.

My first difficult milestone was Thanksgiving, shortly after John's memorial service. I had to find some way to get through the holiday with some semblance of grace. Sorry to say, I didn't handle it well. I cried on my way to my family celebration, and cried harder on my way to my in-laws. It was then that I realized that "business as usual" wasn't going to cut it.

The first time through the year without a partner, every significant day is like a knife wound. You know your own style best, but here are some suggestions to help get you through.

Holidays: Take a break from them if you can. Let family know you aren't up to "celebrating" this year. Make plans to do something entirely different from the way you shared the day with your partner, something you find enjoyable. Visit a museum, the zoo, go shopping, go out instead of dinner at home, whatever will make you feel "in charge" and keep the calendar at bay.

Your Birthday: This was a tough one for me. I spent my birthday with friends who didn't know it was my birthday. We had a big dinner and good conversation and I was able to lose myself in the day.

One young widow threw herself a party, invited only her closest girlfriends and they took turns giving each other makeovers. OR you could buy something special for yourself and know your partner is watching and approving.

HIS/HER Birthday: This is worse yet. I dreaded it for weeks. Finally, I decided to send John's mother flowers and when she called me, we talked for hours about the good times. That evening, I attended a spiritual discussion group where everyone KNEW it was a tough day and they supported me and didn't mind my tears. Being around people who love you and take care of you is a great way to get through a tough day.

For parents, a grief counselor suggested having a party for your spouse that you and your kids can enjoy. A special meal, your partner's photo at the place of honor, a cake with candles the kids can blow out. For older kids, this may be a good time to present them with special keepsakes that belonged to the missing parent. This also gives you a chance to share both your grief and your memories with your children -- they are grieving too, and it's very healing to let them see that, however much you miss someone you love, life continues and that person is always in your heart.

Wedding Anniversary: Whew. Okay. I decided that being alone on my anniversary would be a perfectly awful way to "celebrate" the day. Instead, I decided to pack up and go visit our dearest friends who live out of state. The drive will keep my mind occupied, and my friends will deliver the TLC I need. I plan to drink the same wine and munch the same snack crackers that we shared on our first date. And I'll pour a glass for John!

Death Anniversaries: For the first year, I find myself marking every month. Is it healthy? I don't know. But I can't NOT think of it. I light candles, I talk or write to John about how I'm coping without him. I look at our photo albums. I remember my good fortune in finding him at a young age and having many good years together. I'm finding that 6 months is a bigger deal than 5 months. I can't imagine what I'll be like on the one-year anniversary. But I plan to spend that day with friends who knew him and will be willing to share memories, like an informal one-year memorial service.

A woman who lost her husband just days before I did spent the 6-month day at his grave. She gave him flowers, talked with him a while, then poured his favorite libation over the ground -- a toast to his new life on the other side.

A recent widower told me that buying his wife's favorite flowers and tossing them into the river made the day easier. Another released balloons. Almost any ceremony you can think of that memorializes your special someone will lift your heart just a bit.

One last note: I've found that what you expect is what you get. If you THINK you are going to be absolutely miserable, then you will be. If you decide that you can make plans and manage, you will. Our intentions absolutely manifest in our lives. So intend to have the best day you can under bad circumstances, and MAKE PLANS that fit your life, your family, and your personal grieving style.

And, Hey! Don't forget your extended family at Beyond Indigo. We want to hear from you, what your plans are, how you will mark those special milestones, and how you feel afterward. Remember, we're all on this journey together.