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June 24, 2011

Building on the Changes

My brother, brother-in-law, and I planned ahead for yesterday--the one-year anniversary of my sister's passing. It turned out to be a very smart thing to do.  Here is what we did:

About two weeks ago, we decided we would not let the day pass without the three of us spending time together. Bear in mind--it's still strange for the three of us not to be the four of us, and that it's not our sister organizing our gathering. Still, we made the plan.

For my part, I sent an email to all my business clients telling them I would be out of the office yesterday. I took it easy all morning, had a much-needed physical therapy appointment in the afternoon, and that was the extent of my day. To prepare for dinner, I made little packages for each of my men-folk.  For my brother, I included a fun photo of him and our sister with a backyard archery set-up we had as children. The photo was of the first bulls-eye (Was it achieved by brother or sister? I think it was sister.). They stood by the target, smiling and squinting into the bright Texas sunlight. And, I added some Scharffen Berger chocolate, with a card.  For my brother-in-law, who without a doubt has had the hardest year of the three of us, I included a photo of him and my sister toasting each other at a romantic dinner, with a card that says:  "Congratulations! You're still alive."  I added a note to the card.  (I purchased the card at Pier 1).

The cards and photos brought smiles to their faces first, and then tears.  We were at a wonderful restaurant with an attentive wait-staff, and two of the waiters asked us what we were celebrating, when they saw the gift bags on the table.  That was awkward....I chatted my way out of explaining to them the nature of our gathering.  And they retreated politely.

The three of us shared our "if only" feelings. If only she had known sooner how ill she was. If only we had had more time together... and then we talked about how our lives have changed, and what that means for our futures.

My brother-in-law has begun grief recovery counseling. My brother is starting a new job that represents a career change. I am taking a hard look at creative projects I have had shelved too long and what steps I need to take to bring them back to life.  "We have to build on the changes," I said to them. And they agreed.

What to take away from this experience?

Plan for that first-year anniversary.  The day will be kinder and gentler if you do. Plan not to be alone, if possible.  Recognize the day for what it is:  a memory, a milestone, and a time to honor the loved one no longer physically present.  Let tears flow, if necessary. And celebrate that which was with gratitude. 

A primary reason why planning for that first-year anniversary is important, is that your physical body will remember it, even if your mind doesn't.  And the physical symptoms can strike out of the blue. I have been through enough loss anniversaries now to KNOW that I would feel draggy and tired and disoriented, so I rested accordingly.  And, today, I'm in good shape.

If you have a friend or family member who is nearing the one-year mark of a loved one's passing, talk to them about it.  If you can spend some time with them that day, offer to do so.  If not, send flowers, a card, call them--do something to let them know that you recognize this milestone with them--and pat them on the back for making it through the first year.  Don't be misled by the "pop culture" notion that "there is nothing you can say or do" for friends who have lost a loved one. It's just not true.

Remember the saying:
Friendship doubles our joy and
divides our grief.

Be a friend to someone who needs you, and reach out to a friend when you need them.  It's a good way to begin building a life that, like it or not, must be built on changes.

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