It’s been 11 years since Randy died. He died August 18, 2001. It was only four days after his 26th birthday and three days before our son’s 5th birthday.
August 2002 marked one year, an anniversary I never expected to have. The anniversaries for the death of your husband, spouse, or anyone close to you are unlike any other anniversary you will experience. Usually, leading up to an anniversary, you might pick out a gift and card. Perhaps on your anniversary you might go out to dinner, movie, or just curl up on the couch together.
Death anniversaries are much different, of course. I expected to be sad and lonely on the anniversary of his death. What I did not expect was to completely shut down from the world and experience horrible anxiety for the month of August.
That first year anniversary was terrible, as you can imagine. I felt like I was losing my mind again, like I felt in the beginning stages of my journey. The panic attacks returned. They were mild, but there. I couldn’t sleep again. I didn’t return phone calls. My bills were all late. And, my kids were suffering too;I quit leaving the house for dance classes and homework suddenly wasn’t a priority. If I’m being honest, neither was showering. It was complete regression. I was seeing a counselor, but all of a sudden I could hardly make myself go. When I finally made it to the counselor, we talked about it.
She asked if I thought I was having a hard time because the anniversary of Randy’s death was getting close. My immediate reaction was “I don’t think so”. She was satisfied with that answer. Now I know she was probably hoping I would think on that and realize it was because the anniversary was looming. She was right. I left the office thinking. What if it was the anniversary. What do I do about that? How do I fix that? She and I worked on it, every week. I discovered when I left the house, I did feel a little better. I also realized I withdrew from my friends because I didn’t want to talk about Randy. I didn’t want them to notice something was wrong either.
I had started talking to Tim. We were just friends, but he was already a good support system for me. He often came over after work and we would watch movies and talk. I’m sure he noticed a difference, but I was pretty good at hiding my pain. Tim isn’t a big talker and for that whole month of August, I was glad. The night before Randy’s birthday anniversary, we were talking. I could tell he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure how to say it
“Tomorrow is Randy’s birthday, right? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I guess. As good as I can be.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. My grandma is coming over to watch Emily and give me some time. Maybe I’ll go shopping. Jewelry shopping.”
He laughed, “Yeah, right. You are going to go shopping? And you’re going to buy jewelry.”
I knew what he was getting at, I hate shopping. Now, I know that is so un-girly, but it’s true. “Yeah, I know, it’s strange for me. I think I do really want to go shopping. I think I want a nice piece of jewelry to remember.”
Still smirking, “I don’t believe you.”
“We’ll see.” I answered.
But I did what I said I was going to do, a personality trait Tim came to admire. I saw some jewelry that I had never seen before–past, present, future jewelry. That was meant to be, I was supposed to be there. I bought a sapphire past, present, future ring. It was perfect. I brought it home and he came over that night. I was in bed watching TV. I had cried, maybe off and on for hours. He laid down behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and let me keep crying. Eventually, I rolled over long enough to show him the ring, which he liked. We had a good laugh about the shopping for jewelry thing. It didn’t last long, we watched a little TV, through my tears, and eventually, I fell asleep just as I was, while he held me. I woke up the next morning in his arms.
The date of Randy’s death was the same routine, minus the jewelry shopping. Strangely, after those two days passed, I felt better. I seemed to be back on track to healing, as if I never had a detour to the journey.
The next year, towards the beginning of August, my friends called me out on my strange behavior. I couldn’t really explain it. I had felt okay. I didn’t feel like there was a reason that I would almost disappear from the world. Same with the year after, and then it dawned on me: the body and mind remembers. No matter how far removed I was from the date of his death, my body carried that pain and it resurfaces around the anniversary. On the surface, I knew the dates were coming, but I never felt like I was focused on them. I always felt like I was doing pretty good, considering. I always felt like I continued to move forward. Sure, we all have moments, even eleven years later. We miss them, but over all, we are doing good. Our lives are generally happy and life is good.
Once I became aware of what was happening, I explained to my friends. My family understood, they were experiencing the same thing. My friends made sure to try to give me some space in August, but not let me have too much space. They helped me not sink back into all the pain. They were perfect. Tim understands too. He has a terrible memory, so I often have to explain what time of year it is, but once I remind him, he is wonderful. I quit thinking about the anniversary date all together because that day is nothing but pain for me and my family. And, honestly, the more time went on, I was okay to be happy. I didn’t feel the need to make sure I was miserable as proof that I still loved him. I was going to be happy, the way I was, and think of him when I wanted to think of him. It was okay to be happy. The anniversary was not going to control me.
My subconscious mind and my body had other plans. Your body remembers, even if you don’t want it to. The last few years, I have finally been able to function through August. The feelings still surface. Because I don’t think about losing him every day anymore, it hard for me to realize what is going on. I’m a thinker though, so when I see that I am withdrawing (not returning calls, irritable, and staying it bed) I evaluate what is going on. It’s always that anniversary month. I work hard at not letting it get the best of me. Now, I control it, instead of it controlling me.
The body remembers, even if we don’t want it to or think we are doing fine. Be prepared. Cut yourself a break. It’s okay. Find something to do that gets you out of the house or re-connects you with people who love you. Just like everything concerning grief, it will get better. You have to work a bit and it isn’t easy, but you can get through it. You can get through anything. Don’t give up.