Milestones are tricky when it comes to grief and loss. We tend to “prepare” for the big ones like death-anniversaries, major holidays like Christmas, or your deceased person’s birthday, by anticipating that the day might be emotionally challenging. But, what I’ve found after more than 15 months since my husband Ian’s death is that the more subtle ones tend sneak up on us — presenting an equal struggle or even more of one because they catch us off guard!
We are approaching July 4th, which for most people might be categorized as a “smaller holiday” — a subtle milestone. But for me, it’s also my wedding anniversary with Ian. This Saturday, July 4, 2020, would have marked six years as a married couple.
I don’t know how I’ll be feeling on that day, but what I do know is that I’ll give myself space to welcome whatever comes up and feel it. My grief journey has taught me to embrace the pain as a sign of eternal love — the invisible string that keeps us connected. This Saturday, I plan to visit our wedding venue up on Lookout Mountain and explore the surrounding natural scenery with my two kiddos to remember the day;
How dapper Ian looked in his designer suit. (He got very fancy after living at the Raffles Beijing Hotel for 3 years! 😉 )
His delicious smile that made me fall in love with him.
The way his eyes locked on mine walking down the aisle.
The electricity in the air from the rain storm that had just passed and from energy that everyone who attended our wedding experienced collectively that day.
Love bursting from within us like fireworks.
And while there will be no fireworks to light up the night this year due to the pandemic, I’ll never let go of the spark that connected our souls here on earth and our spirits into eternity.
I revisited my blog post from my first wedding anniversary without Ian. At the time I still wore my wedding rings, in addition to his wedding band, which I had turned into a bracelet. I was still holding on to my old identity — loving wife to Ian and mother to his kids. It’s been a painful, yet profound process to shed these identities and I’ve taken my time to move forward in a way that feels organic and true to me.
I’ve learned that while I’m no longer Ian’s wife, that does’t diminish my love for him; and while our family is missing its father-figure, that doesn’t make us any less whole.
I’ve learned that pain is the greatest catalyst for self-discovery and growth — and this theme comes up time and time again. Which leads me to my last lesson —
That there is always a lesson!
Every life experience — as tragic, unfair, and hopeless as it may seem — can teach us something new. And this awakening is pure magic.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see these lessons when you’re in the thick of pain and struggle — so if you are, I offer the advice to give yourself grace, give yourself time, focus on doing the next right thing and most importantly give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.
And for these sneaky holidays like July 4th, here a few tips I’ve picked up from my personal grief journey:
If you make social plans, remember that you have every right to bail last minute. Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to feel right up until the moment we are “in it”, so give friends or family members a heads up.
If you’re not comfortable with cancelling, then just don’t commit! Reserve the right to join the party last minute or late. Remember — you do what’s right for you!
Remind yourself that this one special day is literally just another day. Consider making space to grieve a couple days before a holiday or milestone if you feel like something might come up. This way you can be in more control of your emotions and enjoy the special day as you envision.
Holidays bring family and friends together. So when our loved one isn’t around to attend the party, it certainly deepens the void. As you see their warm embraces and hear their laughter, it will intensity your loss. Remember to:
- Take a deep breathe.
- Feel the pain.
- Remind yourself that pain is love.
- And that love is just as alive as the people surrounding you.
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know that not one day passes without thinking about our deceased person. Milestones or holidays don’t change that. They can trigger our emotions, but we have the power to prepare to lean into our grief, save it for another day, or feel whatever come up in the moment. You have the freedom and power and to choose whatever path is right for you!
So this July 4th — a day to honor our nation’s freedom and independence —, I invite you to celebrate your loved one; celebrate the freedom and power of creating your own unique journey; and celebrate the lessons — the magical transformations that unfold when we fully embrace struggle and feel it all!