When most of us think about anniversaries, we think of celebratory ones - getting married, starting a relationship, graduating from school and even birthdays. However, most of us also have yearly dates that bring sorrow and anxiety. These dates include loss of a loved one, when a car accident or other traumatic event occurred, or the loss of employment. Lurking in the back of our minds are our most painful memories. If you are like me, it is around the anniversary of painful memories, that I am filled with dread and an impulse to try and avoid them all together.
Big anniversaries have been on the minds of many Americans recently. It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and 14 years since the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. The news has touched upon the events, themselves, but has also put great emphasis on questions like "where are we now?" or "Are things better now?"
I understand the desire to ask these questions. I too struggle with the lack of control that comes from these big losses and the urge to try and make sense of them; I also want to feel as though we learned or grew from tragedies. But reading these articles, I could not help but wonder if these questions put unintentional pressure on our grief process. They can imply that we should be acting a certain way to demonstrate that we've recovered or that we should even be fully recovered after a specific amount of time has passed.
A few days later, I sat in a counseling session with a client who had lost his father about a year ago. He spoke about his increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and overall lack of focus. He was having a hard time understanding why his symptoms had increased. As we explored what might be going on for him that was different this week than others, he mentioned that the anniversary of his father's death was approaching. I encouraged him to consider how this anniversary may be the source of his negative feelings. He spoke about how he understood that the date might be difficult; he also spoke about conflicting thoughts about how he should feel. Should he be more recovered? What does one's grief look like after a year? How would he feel the next year? The stress of having to define what the anniversary would mean for him seemed just as prominent in his mind as the painful feelings from that day.
The problem with these questions is that there isn't just one answer. The truth is, we all grieve differently. We all heal differently. And though we all know this logically, it remains difficult to be kind to ourselves.
A great first step to being kind to yourself is to eliminate the word "should." I consider this a dirty word that only serves to make us feel worse and worse about ourselves.
I shouldn't still feel this way.
I should be doing more to get over it.
I should have learned something by now.
I should stop being so angry and sad.
We use "should" to place judgement on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It adds fuel to our fire of insecurity and self-doubt. With that fire raging, it makes it harder and harder to make healthy choices.
So let's see what happens when we eliminate the word, "should":
I want to heal and not feel this way.
It's taking longer than I expected to feel better.
I want to learn something from this tragedy.
I feel sad and angry right now and it's ok.
Acceptance comes from naming what is happening in the present moment and not judging your experience. Hope comes through with wants and wishes that feel more attainable. You might even find some motivation to improve your coping mechanisms if you've turned to unhealthy ways in the past.
You have the power to guide yourself on your own unique journey to healing. It can start with just your thoughts.
To learn more about grief and options for support, contact Katie Jackson at Kathryn.c.jackson@gmail .com or Lauren Rabin at email@example.com .
Co-Author: Kathryn Jackson is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and the Clinical Director at Daybreak Counseling in Chicago. Katie's specialties include trauma, major life events, and autism. In her free time, Katie is a voracious reader of novels, slowly checking off her travel "to-go list",and usually has a cup of dark roast coffee in her hand.