At a distance we noticed a hawk flying. In the next moment, it headed straight towards us and circled over head. Smiling, I knew that Kyle was with us as we celebrated the 13-year anniversary of his death. We made a ritual of hiking to his tree, a small oak ling; we planted in his honor, a year after he passed. I hadn’t been there in three years, so was happy to see how the tree had filled out and was big enough to provide shade for me and my family, protecting us from the scorching sun.
The next morning, the day of his actual anniversary, I placed a picture of him as a baby along with a fresh yellow rose from my garden on my altar and meditated. Immediately, I felt his loving, spiritual presence. Tears flowed as I was overcome with intense love, gratitude and joy. I recognized how integral his life and death, his journey, had been to my own. His death helped me to awaken spiritually and sent me on my own journey of healing and transformation which led me to doing work I love, helping others to heal and transform their lives. It seems that he is still with me today, unlocking doors, guiding me onward.
My father’s 10-year anniversary since his death was only three days prior. That morning, I went through old photos and placed a couple on my altar. I gave myself permission to grieve and allowed myself to miss him…his voice, his laugh, his hugs. I missed feeling the security of his physical presence. I also spent time in gratitude for all of the gifts he gave me…the adventures we had, my love for sailing, etc.
As I write this, I am still healing from the flu I got over two weeks ago that left me with this annoying persistent cough. I am aware that issues with the lungs are typically related to grief and that my body is responding to the memories of my brother’s and father’s deaths this time of year. I am experiencing an anniversary reaction.
Anniversary reactions often come as a surprise. Just when we think we are done grieving, and have gotten back to the business of living, an unexpected wave hits. We wonder, “Where did this come from? Perhaps I am not as far along the grieving process as I thought.” The reaction can go deep and last a while, or be subtle. Sometimes they aren’t obvious such as my experience with getting the flu. One thing for certain, they remind us that healing from loss takes time. And, they offer us an opportunity to heal further if we allow them instead of resist them.
Typically a reaction occurs on or near a landmark date such as the death of a loved one, their birthday, or a holiday. They may occur around a specific life experience such as a graduation or wedding where their absence is strongly felt. When my sister, Kara, graduated with her master’s degree, the room was packed, nearly every chair taken. Somehow there were two empty chairs next to us, on either side. It was comforting to imagine my father and Kyle sitting there with us, as we celebrated her huge accomplishment.
Creating a ritual around these trigger dates allows us to be conscious of their affect and can assist us in the healing process…pictures on an altar, planting a tree or flower, lighting a candle, gathering with family and friends to share stories about our loved one. Each year, your reaction will get less and less severe and you will be able to experience more joy and energy for living.
(Check out this wonderful blog for more information about anniversary reactions and the grief healing process: http://www.griefhealingblog.com/)