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Your brain has a calendar. Or mine does at least.

I always tell myself that anniversaries are just a date, that they shouldn’t matter, the calendar is made up anyway etc, but I’ve found myself emotionally reeling on anniversaries I didn’t even consciously remember so I’ve learned to respect the calendar that my subconscious keeps.

Be happy. Or don’t. Seriously don’t let the calendar or anyone else boss you around. I know I’m being kind of bossy right now. But that’s different.

We anti-celebrated the year anniversary of Cheryl’s death on June 18th. What I really wanted to do on the date itself was to throw myself a good ol’ fashioned pity party. I wanted to turn off my phone, log out of facebook, eat cake and drink diet mountain dew and just spend the day feeling sorry for myself, maybe watching a rerun or two of Law and Order SVU (which is probably the healthiest coping action of all those listed).

But I remembered from last time (one of the lucky parts of having a second helping grief experience;I’m not starting each phase of grief over from scratch) that  self-pity gets SO DAMN BORING after a while and you can really only stare at the wall for so long before (as a grieving friend once said) “you want to throw up on your own head”

Here’s my two cents about planning for hard days. Because each person and situation is difficult, your mileage may vary.

1. You’re the expert on what is difficult for you. Period. End of story. Maybe it’s the anniversary of your partner’s death, maybe it’s their birthday, maybe it’s the anniversary your mom was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe it’s Groundhog Day. Whatever. I remember a friend of Heather’s once told me “it didn’t make sense” to feel sad on the anniversary of Heather’s death, that instead “we should celebrate her life on her birthday.” Bullshit.Other people don’t get to have an opinion about when you should feel sad.

2. Have a plan for the day. On the anniversary of Cheryl’s death, I took some phone calls, did a little work, and spent time with a friend at Coney Island.  It was a day of sadness and also reflection but I didn’t make it worse for myself by trying to make an event/gathering  happen for other people.I chose someone to be with me who wasn’t as close to Cheryl as some of our other friends; she was able to be present for me without her own sorrow overwhelming her.

3. Make sure people know. It’s really wonderful when people remember anniversaries, important dates, times that are hard for you, etc, but them not remembering probably has more to do with the level of activity in their life and little to do with how much they care about you. So, don’t set yourself up for emotional failure by making people guess. Send out an email “hey beloved friends, this Friday is going to be hard for me, here’s why, could you please…” and then give specific concrete suggestions. Things like “give me a call” or “text message me” or “make a few hours to spend doing x or y with me.”

4. Have a plan for social media. Cheryl was a writer and known in our community, so she was facebook friends with many people she was not actual friends with. On the first time her birthday passed after her death, people kept writing birthday greetings on her wall that made it very clear they had no idea she was dead. Things like “Have a great day, Cheryl, eat lots of cake :)”. This made me livid, and so I set out to answer each of those inane comments with “she’s dead.” This, of course, was a great use of my time and not emotionally draining at all (this is sarcasm). I suggest having a trusted friend address this kind of stuff. If you’re having a hard day, you don’t need random strangers making it worse.

5. Don’t require yourself to be in any certain kind of emotional place just because an anniversary has passed. After Heather died, the two months after the year anniversary were just…horrible. I couldn’t stop crying, I had nightmares all the time, I wanted to stab someone 24/7. This time, I’m not in the same state. I spent a lot of time with my therapist trying to figure out what made the difference until we arrived at “who knows, I’ll just enjoy it”

One year after Heather died, I printed this out about one hundred times and taped it everywhere in my room. Keeping the capslock for the sake of keeping it real…this may have even originally been in comic sans font:

I DECIDE. MY RATE OF PROGRESS. THE MEANING I ASSIGN TO WHAT HAS HAPPENED

i DECIDE WHEN I GO ON TO THE NEXT STEP IN MY LIFE

I DECIDE. TO BE THANKFUL EVERY MOMENT THAT I POSSIBLY CAN. TO USE ALL THE RESOURCES AT MY DISPOSAL (INCLUDING CREATIVE EXPRESSION) TO MAKE THIS A CONSTRUCTIVE, RATHER THAN DESTRUCTIVE, EXPERIENCE.

I DECIDE TO BELIEVE IN THE BEAUTY OF WHO I AM AND WHAT I’VE DONE.

I BELIEVE THERE IS SOMETHING AMAZING JUST AROUND THE CORNER. CONTINUING TO WALK IS THE ONLY WAY TO FIND IT

That’s the crux of all this though, right? You’re the grieving person. You decide.

About Kelli Dunham

Everyone's favorite ex-nun genderqueer nerd comic.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Your brain has a calendar. Or mine does at least.

  1. honest and heartfelt about how to move through some of the difficult shit. thank you for putting some of these thoughts to practice with mama.

    Posted by devon | July 30, 2012, 6:45 pm
  2. thank you for this. I’ve been told I should be over it , it’s been six years already and I have another partner and i should just be happy for pete’s sake on and on and on. I’m not over it. I never will be. We should have grown old together, had a million different experiences together, done exciting and boring shit together. But we’re not going to get that. How I can I be over that? I am happy with the life I have now but that doesn’t mean I don’t still mourn the life I didn’t get to have through no fault of my own. Something amazing is always around the corner and I do keep walking, but I also get to grieve as long as I need to. Anyone who attempts to bully me out of my grief gets to fuck right off.

    Posted by Janette | July 30, 2012, 6:58 pm
  3. For me, it’s 10 years in March 13. I am in love and so happy but Vicki is dead and after 18 years it still sucks. I so agree with Janette.

    Posted by Linda Kinsman-Saegert | September 10, 2012, 4:13 pm
  4. thank you for this! my fathers one year anniversary is this weekend and i have not the slightest clue how to approach it. ive read books and havent found any insight as beneficial as this had been in the few minutes it took me to read it. im actually going to print my own copy out and put it up in my room. everyones experience is different but this can be so helpful to so many people! thank you again, and of course i also agree with janette!

    Posted by ASHLEY | August 26, 2013, 5:13 pm

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Kelli Dunham: registered nurse, author, stand-up comic

I am also--despite being under 45 years old- a two time widow, having lost two partners in a row to cancer. GRIEF SUCKS is a reaction to the kitsch that passes as death /dying/ bereavement discussion in the popular/ dominant culture and makes me want to poke out my eye with a spoon. I'm also including nuts and bolts info about caregiving and building support systems that I've picked up on these journeys.

COLLEGE? PRIDE? CLUB? COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION?

If you stumbled here looking to book me comedy shows or presentations, you'll find all the information you need at

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