There are times in our lives that are so painful and life altering that we actually label them in our mind as, “before ____________ happened” and “after _____________ happened.” The loss and grief is so intense, we intrinsically understand we will never be the same. Whether the death of a loved one, a tragic world event, or a situation that permanently changes our quality of life, some experiences transform us forever. There is no going back from these events, and they forever separate time from that point onward.
On each of these anniversaries we are reminded of what we lost. We look at it like, “_________ happened a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, 10 years ago” and so on. The human brain naturally works this way, and therefore anniversaries of painful experiences can trigger us to relive the initial loss we felt when it first happened. Unfortunately, there are some tragedies that we do not heal from. Yes, the pain may slightly dull over the years because we become accustomed to living with it, but it never goes away.
Every year I dread the arrival of July 8th; it is a very traumatic anniversary in my family. Some times in life, we don’t know who we are until we are tested with unimaginable tragedy. As my sister stood looking down from her bedroom window to see two police officers standing at her front door on a warm July night, she had no idea how much her life was about to forever change. This was the night she learned that her beautiful and creative 18 year old daughter was killed in a hit and run accident while she was long boarding home from work.
As the facts came to light of the man who hit my niece Alix, my sister’s only child, we learned he had been drinking all day at a “Martini Golf Outing” at a local country club and he was a well known doctor in the area. Driving out of his lane and on to the side of the road, going over the legal speed limit, he struck Alix where she was skating and threw her over 100 feet into a neighboring lawn, and then drove away. He claimed he didn’t know he hit a person, but the damage on his German car would tell quite another story in court. Unfortunately not enough to give him more than a slap in the wrist for the FIVE felony counts that he was accused of in court 10 months later. Every day my sister must live with the fact that the man who killed her daughter, still practices medicine in the city where she lives.
As is the case with my sister, many situations cause us not only to experience an initial tragedy, but also additional injustice and suffering, that will bring more painful anniversaries along with them.
We may recall the time a parent went to the hospital for COVID, and then the date they actually passed. Or the anniversary of a horrible car wreck that left someone we knew brain dead, and then the date, a few days later, when we finally had to turn off life support. It might even be how we remember the last time we went shopping or had lunch with someone before their unexpected passing. Regardless, these tragic anniversaries will remain forever etched in our minds.
Every year, in my niece’s memory, I light a candle of remembrance. Not to recall the tragic way she was taken from us, but to remind myself of her enthusiasm, her energy, her creativity, her kindness and positivity, her laughter, and of course, her promise. I feel her draw especially close to me during this time, and I am sure the same is true of the rest of my family. The two songs she sends my way are “If I Die Young” and “I Hope You Dance” and I actually heard both of them on my Pandora shuffle yesterday. Coincidentally, as I was getting ready to write this, my attention was drawn to a document in my files I had forgotten about from 2018. It was a message Alix had sent me to give to her mother that year on her birthday. I read it and was amazed at how meaningful this message still is, and I feel like this is something we could all use to see, so I am including it at the bottom of this blog.
Yes these anniversaries are painful, but we would never feel pain if we had not previously also experienced amazing beauty, love, joy and happiness. As Queen Elizabeth II so eloquently said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
December 29th, 2018
When I asked Ally what she wanted you to know, today on her 26th Birthday, this is what she expressed to me. (These are not her exact words, but only the full expression of her sentiments.)
I see you. I see you and hear you all the times you are alone. All the times you cry or feel angry. I am there and touch your hair, letting you know that I am close. I know some days it feels like you are just going through the motions of life, but you are not. Because in a sense, each day that you live, you are continuing my life for me, because through you, I still live. I see what you see, experience what you experience and feel what you feel. You carried me once for 9 months, but now you carry me every day, whether you realize or not. You are MY gift, as much as I was YOURS. It is my biggest wish that you would learn to be more patient and loving with yourself. So when you think of my birthday this year, and what I might want, that is exactly it. Love yourself and you will love me, for I am in you. I will love you always…