It is beautiful outside and I suppose this may seem to be an inappropriate topic for such a lovely day. The problem though is that Death doesn’t stop out of respect for a pretty day or a holiday and when you lose someone who you care deeply about, it is a dark day no matter what the weather is like. If you have not experienced the kind of loss that leaves you in breathless grief, and you are faced with trying to help someone who is coping with it, you may be uncertain as to what you should do. You may be fine with taking the immediate traditional actions, but what I want to talk about is something that comes later.
In general, we don’t deal well with death in our culture, and we have somehow created this “timeline” that we think is applicable. If you are not the individual who has suffered the loss, there is a tendency to view six months, and certainly a year, as this sociatially-imposed guideline for when you should be “getting on with your life”. While the individual may indeed be functioning and have dealt with estate or other “practical” matters, the kind of grief that I am talking about can reach and grab you at the most unexpected moments – a song on the radio that had shared meaning, something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store when you realize you no longer need to purchase a particular item because it was the loved one’s favorite. The passage of time does help, but adapting to the loss is not a straight-line process. There are ups, downs, U-turns, and that leads me to the main point here.
The anniversary of someone’s death can be particularly unsettling and I don’t just mean the first one. The grief can seem almost fresh and it may not be something that the person can articulate, or perhaps feel comfortable in trying to explain. If you have a friend or a loved one who is in this situation, I am not suggesting that you ask the direct question. This is the time to send one of the lovely “I’m thinking of you today” kind of cards, or make the offer of going out without stating the reason why. If the individual wishes to express why, then you are there to listen. On the other hand, the individual can take the opposite approach of wanting to very much acknowledge the day and that’s fine, too. In some cases, the individual might prefer to be alone. The main thing is to understand that emotional support can be incredibly important at that moment and you need to take your cue from the individual. If you are tempted to say, “Well, I don’t want to remind him or her”, trust me, a loving gesture from you isn’t what will trigger the memory.