My daughter’s death anniversary is quickly approaching, in less than a week. It will be six years this August 3 that she died. They say that time heals all wounds, but I wonder sometimes if the person who coined that phrase or the people who parrot it when confronted with the harsh reality of grief ever lost a child. I would bet money that they didn’t.
Six years on, things are not a lot easier. It’s true that that first anniversary was probably the hardest, mostly because I had nothing to prepare me for it. I had no idea what to expect. I do remember wanting to die that day, of wanting to rush into the nearest body of water and never come back. Luckily, my husband was more level-headed than I was and kept me on land. It wasn’t the first or last time I wanted to die since my daughter passed away, but on these anniversary days the feelings tend to intensify. The hardest part is not really knowing how I will feel day to day, as the anniversary date approaches. Some years, I keep myself relatively busy until just a day or two before, stifling my emotions (although not consciously so) with busy-work and tasks and errands and shopping and television and food and all the consumerist distractions of our modern way of life. It’s easy to do, on many levels.
But I’m more in touch with myself and my feelings than most people, I think, and sooner or later, the crash comes. Sometimes it happens right before the anniversary day itself, sometimes it’s on the actual day (though more often the actual day is not as bad as the days leading up to or right afterwards), sometimes it happens a day or two after, when I think I’ve been spared, this year, with having to deal with the tidal wave of grief. But alas, that has never happened to me yet. I don’t expect it ever will.
I always take time off from work and from ‘normal’ life around the anniversary days. Around her birthday, I’ve gotten to the point where just a few days off will suffice. It’s a happier anniversary to remember and celebrate, and I usually have some kind of party for my daughter, since that’s what we would do if she were still here. Every year, these parties get smaller and smaller, but they are still meaningful to me.
But around her death anniversary, the emotions are darker, sadder, more intense. So I take more time off, usually a week, and try to give myself lots of space, try not to schedule much, during this time, to allow whatever needs to come up to arise. I’m fortunate in this way because I’m self-employed and can pretty much set my own schedule, and tell my colleagues far in advance that this one week I am not going to be available. This is the time for me to take care of myself and my husband, to remember and honor my daughter, and to do what I need to do in the moment, without worrying whether I’m flaking on someone or making them worry or shirking a responsibility.
A surviving day is one of those really hard days, one of the ‘crash’ days. I call them blue days or depressed days. It often starts with a sad feeling as soon as I wake up in the morning. I don’t feel like getting out of bed. The dog is sniffing at me and wanting me to take him for a walk but I don’t care. I may look at pictures of my daughter, which can usually make me feel better, a reminder that she was here, that my longing for her is normal and real and to be expected, but on the surviving days, they just make me cry.
Why did she have to go? Why isn’t she here? Why did this have to happen to us?
Those are some of the questions that go through my mind. Sometimes I ask my lovely husband these questions, as if he has an answer, as if he’s not struggling with the same questions, perhaps in a different way. Fortunately, he doesn’t sugarcoat things or minimize them either, so he just looks at me with the sadness pulling down the corners of his brown eyes and his mouth, and says, I don’t know.
On these surviving days, I often ask my husband to walk the dog for me, which he does with no questions asked. After six years, we know what we both need and how to take care of each other during these moments. It does get a little easier in that way. Although there are just as often the times when we are more snippy and short with each other, in the days leading up to her death anniversary, when we get on each other’s nerves more quickly, and we just can’t explain way. I’ve learned to give him more space around these times, more silence, to not demand that he verbally process everything with me—it’s not his way, though it is my way of making sense of things, to talk things through.
But sometimes despite our best efforts we lash out at each other, feel hurt by the other’s lack of attention or by each other’s grumpiness, and ultimately a meltdown occurs, a fight, shouting and tears and harsh words, until we somehow come back together as a team again. As the years go by, it does become a bit easier to come back together. Earlier on, there were times when I didn’t think we’d make it through, when I worried that I would lose my marriage on top of losing my child. But that hasn’t happened, thank goodness. I don’t know what I would do if it did.
Sigh. Oh, these surviving days. They are a pain in the f**king ass.
I call them surviving days because that’s all I can do on these days. I can’t work, or be expected to even cook or do something nice for myself. I cancel my appointments, order comfort food, sleep a lot, and maybe text some friends to let them know I could use some prayers and support. But mostly I just want to be alone. If I have any level of energy I try to go outside, to get out in nature. Sunshine and nature helps more than anything else. Humans, outside of my husband, sadly, often don’t help, are more often than not a drain on my already depleted energy. My dog helps. He sits next to me and licks my face and stares up at me with those innocent, purely present eyes. He can tell when I’m sad, always comes up to me and wants pets, and nudges my hand or arm or leg as if to say, Hey, it’s going to be okay.
There’s only one thing to do on these surviving days. The obvious. Just survive. Just breathe, from one moment to the next. Drink water. Eat some food. Don’t harm yourself. Don’t drink alcohol or do any real drugs, they won’t help the pain, only give you the illusion of helping. Take care of your body and spirit. Let yourself cry. Just get through the f**king day and hope the next day is better. Hint: it usually is.
So as Naima’s angel day approaches this year, I find myself tearing up more often. It gets harder to look at her pictures, harder to talk about her without getting very sad. I just want her back, just want my old, happy life back. Just want what I can’t have. I sense a surviving day coming on and I no longer brace against it, I just wait for it, and take my vitamins, and do as much as I can while I still feel like doing it, until I can’t do it anymore.
There’s no way to make sense of losing a baby who seemed to be perfect, whose cheeks were flush with pink and liveliness, whose smile could make a whole room of grown-up light up with joy, whose simple being brought more delight to the world than I ever thought possible. And then, in an instant, she was gone. There is no answer to this, only grief and remembrance and heartache and the joy of knowing that we had the privilege of knowing and caring for her in the short time that she was here.
And knowing that on those hard days, those special days, that surviving all of this is all I can ask myself to do.