My oldest daughter Anna, who was born in December, died suddenly two years ago. Her loss will always be with me. As someone told me, you don’t ever get over the death of someone dear to you, you learn to adjust to it. Your spirit sort of absorbs the pain and it becomes part of your story.
Christmas is a particularly difficult time for dealing with loss. The holiday is a marker of every year I spent with her. Anna was born on December 5th after a rough two-day labor. I still remember the moment they placed her on my stomach, wiggly and full of life. I remember the indescribable joy of seeing my baby for the first time. I remember how precocious she was as a baby, saying words like “buttehfwy” (butterfly) at 4 months. And I remember her as a smart, funny, caring adult who LOVED cats and dogs. I miss her every day. Every. Day.
So how have I learned to cope with this big Anna size piece missing from my life?
There is no easy answer. It takes time and it takes being gentle with myself. Here are some things that have really helped me. Maybe they can help you.
1. Accept that you are grieving, and will continue to grieve. I have learned that fighting the feelings of sadness leads to just deeper pain. I allow the feelings to flow in and recognize that yes, I miss her and yes, it is wrong that she is gone. And it hurts. It feels like a wave of emotion that will never end. But it does end. I have found that if I let it come in, and allow myself to cry, after a few minutes it will subside.
2. I find that solitude works best for me when I am sad, but if you are feeling especially vulnerable and lost it helps to be with someone. You can ask them to just sit with you while you feel your feelings. Perhaps, you can ask a friend, a pastor, another family member, or a grief counselor. You can find various groups in your area and online. Insurance will often cover grief therapy as well.
3. Take B vitamins. I know this sounds odd, but years ago a therapist told me to take B vitamins because they help with depression. On difficult days I take a B12 and B vitamin stress tab. I honestly feel it has helped.
4. Get up and get dressed. It’s easy to want to stay in bed, or drift around in the same clothes day after day when you are depressed. But a shower, fresh clothes and combing your hair can do a lot for your attitude.
5. Go outside. Stand in the sunlight. See something green and growing. Go sit by a body of water, a lake, river, ocean. Look at trees and flowers. Breathe in fresh cool air and watch the sun sparkle on snow. There is something about nature that puts me back into life, where I experience being part of something bigger than me, and what’s in my head. The vitamin D from the sunlight is good for your mood too.
6. Play with your pets. Pet your cat, take your dog for a walk. Give them a special treat. Watch your fish swim. Talk to your bird. No pet? Go to the mall or an animal shelter or Petco where they have animals for adopting. You don’t have to bring one home, but you can watch them, pet them and just enjoy them. I get endless enjoyment (and annoyance) from my cats. My dog adores me much more than I deserve. It’s hard to be sad around my bouncy puppy.
7. Do something special in honor of your loved one. Spend some time thinking about what would be a great “gift” to honor them. Donate to an animal shelter, a hospital, to a cause that makes sense. Plan to do that every year.
8. Distract yourself with humor. There are plenty of cat videos, silly movies, and funny gifs to lift your spirits. I find that Pixar never fails to make me feel better.
9. Get some exercise. Dance to favorite music. Take a walk. Go swimming at the YMCA or gym. Do some yoga exercises that you can find on Youtube. Tell yourself you will do at least 8 minutes. (That’s how long it takes for your blood to flow to your entire body.)
10. Clean something. Spend 15 minutes focused on cleaning some area in your house. Wash the dishes. Pick up some clothes. Put some stuff away. It will get you moving and your environment will be a bit better. Do it every day.
11. Remember joyful times with your loved one, instead of dwelling on the fact that they aren’t there. Think about the good times you had. Share those thoughts in a journal, on Facebook or with a friend.
12. Pray. Bring your sadness to God. Let Him know how you feel and spend some time allowing His presence to comfort you. My faith is the biggest reason I am still standing.
I know that none of these suggestions will change the past or cure you of the pain of loss. But they have helped me. The process of grief I have gone through these past two years has had its good and bad days. Because of my faith, I believe that Anna is in Heaven and is free of pain and suffering. So for me, it is my missing her that affects me. I will always miss her. But somehow going through this terrible experience has deepened my faith. It has made me even more aware of the precious gift of each day. It has made me cherish and enjoy my family and life here more strongly. That is the good that has come out of my grief.
My prayer for everyone reading this is that you, too, will find comfort for your sorrow, and a deeper love for your family and life through your grief process.