I read with great interest the many postings, authored pieces and have spoken to many families who share their perceptions about the phrase "The Year of Firsts". My family and I are living through the concept of "The Year of Firsts, Seconds and Thirds, etc" as on, March 12, 2014 @ 6:02 am, we continue to remember the passing of Zachary Bernstein our son who lost his battle with DIPG (Pediatric Brain Cancer) as though it was yesterday. Where has the time gone?
I read with great interest an authored piece written by Terri Collet, ACSW, LCSW, Director of Social Services at Communities Hospice. I have excerpted Terri's article titled "The Year Of "Firsts"
"Anyone whose gone through grief or loss will tell you, the "first of anything " is the hardest. What is meant by "firsts" and why is it so hard?
The "firsts" refers to the first time you face those specific, noted days that have meaning or memories attached. Those days can be anything from the anniversary of the time you met, the wedding anniversary, the person's birthday, the day they were diagnosed with an illness, the day they died. Those days can also be any day that had certain traditions associated. For example, Tuesdays was the day you shared Bingo, Saturday or Sunday was the day you shared church.
The winter holidays are another set of "firsts:" the first Thanksgiving where she's not there to help bake the pies, the first New Year's when he's not there to share a kiss at midnight. The grief is compounded at these times because the memories of the person who's died come flooding back and their absence is felt more acutely. A wave of grief once again surfaces, though often it feels like a tidal wave.
Going to the old places, seeing the old things without your loved one there can be very painful. Many people try to avoid both the memory and the activity or occasion that brings back memories. It is not necessary to avoid these things and in fact these activities may be helpful. If you avoid the activity you used to share, then you are depriving yourself of something you used to enjoy as well as missing an opportunity to remember. Allowing yourself to remember is an important part of the healing process."
I don't mean to focus on this specific author, and in many cases her philosophy is true but for someone who is going through all these emotions and after speaking to others families, many may not share the same philosophy.
I rarely get offended these days and in most cases understand the human condition very well. What disturbs me the most, is, the simplicity of the phrase and the ignorance by which many commonly assume that once the year of firsts is over that we will all remarkably rebound and feel a bit more at ease since we've gone through a year of first-times events. I think the term is used very loosely and certainly without malice.
On the flip side...I read rants from families who are so angered by the human condition to acknowledge this ignorant phrase that they go on and on in anger and disbelief. The perception is "how dare this individual foresee what my future will look like". "Until they've walked in my shoes..". blah blah blah.
There are wonderful families who memorialize the loss of their child each and every day as though the loss was for the first time. Others see what their year looks like and goes through managing the best way they can. Others never distance themselves from the grief as though it was yesterday and others manage life petty well. We are not all conditioned to feel the same way. There are moments and triggers that ignite our emotions year over year. We don't wake up after a year and say..."we're done grieving and doing well". I can certainly attest to this because as I write this e-mail the day after we lit the Yahrzeit candle, I feel the same way I did yesterday.
I am simply cautioning the phrase "The year of firsts" because the reality is, there will be year of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.
For those who have lost or suffered, I suspect those acknowledging the loss after a year is simply showing respect and trying to find the right words to say. The promise...they are hopeful the years preceding will get easier. They assume you've seen the future and will take measures to prepare yourself for the known, because until then...there was the fear of the unknown.
For those who are acknowledging the loss or showing recognition, assume every year will be challenging as the anger and frustration of the loss will probably live on for a long time. It's not easy to get over these tragedies. With simple understanding and patience from both sides will reap a more harmonious exchange.
I caution those who reference the term "The year of firsts", because it will set off triggers for most. I also caution those that get so irate and rant on and on. The reality is, not too many families lose their children the way this elite club has done in the way their child exited our world. Simply put, they don't understand and probably will never.
So the next time you're at a family gathering, social event, holidays, birthday or other communal function that may cause you to ignite a families emotion, instead of saying..."how's it been" or assume since a year is gone everything is easier. I would just say..."can I get you a beer?". Sometimes...Less is more.
On behalf of the Fly A Kite Foundation, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Have a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year.
Founder and President
The Fly A Kite Foundation