Lost a Loved One? A Grief Lesson on ‘Firsts’

This continues Dianne’s 10 Things I’ve Learned About Grief. Here she discusses the first year of ‘firsts’, as that can tempt some to think about suicide.

By Dianne E. Butts:

 

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In 1850 Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem In Memoriam:27, wrote, “ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But if you’ve lost a loved one, it may not feel that way, but instead may tempt you to think about suicide.

The first year after the death of a loved one is filled with many “firsts.” In my list of “10 Things I’ve Learned About Grief” (excerpted from my first book, Dear America), the sixth thing I’ve learned about grief is this:

 #6: During the first year, you will experience a lot of “firsts”—your first anniversary, first birthday, first Christmas, and other first holidays without your loved one. Other firsts may include the first time you go to the movies without your loved one, plan a trip by yourself, or dine solo. And, of course, there will come the first anniversary of your loved one’s death.

It’s hard for anyone to get through all these for the first time. And getting through them the first time does not take away all the pain or depression. You may feel grief on those anniversaries for many years to come.

I learned some people experience “anniversary grief”: feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, or other emotions around the anniversary of the death. These may even be subconscious, as a feeling of sadness, anxiety, anger, or other emotion that you just can’t figure out why it is hovering over you.

For years I felt a vague sense of dread, like something bad was about to happen, around my birthday. I could not shake the feeling and did not understand it. I didn’t connect it with my brother’s death until a friend of mine explained “anniversary grief” to me. It was only two days after my 18th birthday that my brother was killed by a drunk driver. I’d had other traumatic events happen near my birthday when a younger teenager also, including when my parents announced their divorce and yet another year when my father was diagnosed with cancer and had major surgery.

While I hadn’t connected the dots, my subconscious had, and it left me with that feeling something dreadful was about to happen. You may experience a different feeling. These feelings can cause us to think about suicide.

When such an anniversary is approaching:

  • Try to anticipate times that will be difficult, like holidays.
  • Make plans to do something special.
  • Preferably do your special plans with friends, family, or other people around.
  • Holidays or personal anniversaries are no time to be alone.

Pastor Charles Stanley wrote a beautiful letter to grieving people on the tenth anniversary of September 11th:

We experience injustices at the hand of others who cause us overwhelming suffering. The pain gnaws at us and we wonder, Why God? Why did You allow these things to happen? Is there any hope left?

“Are you experiencing this kind of grief today? Has your world come crashing down due to another’s hurtful actions? Have you lost someone or something that is very precious to you? If so, I want to remind you that God is still on His throne…and He loves you unconditionally.”

You can read the rest of Pastor Charles Stanley’s letter here.

Seek out the comfort of friends and family. They love you and they need you, too. So don’t let the first year of firsts after the death of a loved one tempt you to think about suicide.

When you feel sad or are thinking about suicide, why not instead begin to think about things you are thankful for? God, also, has experienced pain and loss and He knows how it feels. Listen to this song with lots to thank God for: “I’ll Say Thanks” by God City: