The Dreaded Death Day Anniversary

I recently received this question: What are your suggestions as the first anniversary of my mother’s death is approaching?

This month’s focus is on the brain as it relates to grief. Let us first look at brain science. An answer to this question requires us to engage the brain’s frontal lobe, the place of specific executive functioning.  Circuits are located there to evaluate, plan and implement a decision.

The first question to ask is: Do I want to choose to acknowledge this day or instead focus on her birthday, Mother’s Day or a day special to the two of us?

The frontal lobe weighs the advantages and disadvantages of the situation posed in this question.  Is this day valuable? Will the outcome be meaningful? Many people do not even remember the death day so it is neither dreaded nor draining. They have simply said “Her birthday celebrations were wonderful so I am continuing to celebrate on that date.” Remembering the principle ‘Choice is our birthright’ others have chosen to honor the holidays of her lifetime: Birthday, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. Their heart chose happiness.

For those of you like me, the date of my son, Reed’s death changed the calendar of my life forever. The Death Anniversary is something that I have chosen to acknowledge and allow for each of these past twenty years. It is a day that has now changed from dreaded anticipation to one of quiet celebration.

The Events of This Day Now

The events on January 24th have shifted dramatically over the decades. In the beginning there were parties with Reed’s friends, who even now remember this date. Each year on January 7th, Epiphany,  I evaluated on which day of the week January 24th would occur. I then looked at was already on my calendar. Given that ‘energy picture’ I planned an hour during the day to simply sit and allow myself to be in the memories and the feelings they evoked. Some years as I implemented my plan, I sobbed and others I smiled. This year, 2018, I felt a sense of calm connection and gratitude that I was in the place of ‘Gentle Grief’, an underground stream that I noticed in my heart. Other years the water as grief has shot up like Old Faithful in body wrenching sobs. On other Death Day Anniversaries the grief has simply bubbled up as gentle tears of sadness.

Mindful Grieving

Often when we evaluate, plan and implement, we have little-self awareness. The decision and subsequent actions of planning and implementation around the Death Day Anniversary are different. There is an emotional pull.

Mark Waldman, author of NeuroWisdom writes “When you mindfully observe these processes (evaluation, planning and implementation) throughout the day, you’ll enhance the neurological functioning of the executive skills. You’ll be less likely to be knocked off balance by anxiety or negative thinking (so prevalent in grief). Your stress levels will drop, increasing productivity.”

So this year, I would answer her question with these  5 tips:

1.Ask: “Do I want to acknowledge this Death Day Anniversary or focus on another day special to us?”

2.Be still. Breathe in and out through your nose three times. Now feel you heart. What does it want to have happen?

3.Move your awareness to your forehead, home of the frontal lobe.

4.Breathe in and out through your nose for three minutes. Evaluate with your mind what does it want to have happen?

5.Create a plan and implement it with support from people who love you.

Share your comments in the blog space below.