The first year after loss is full of unknowns

By Ted Wiard
Posted 1/31/20

Dear Dr. Ted:

I know you have written many articles on anniversaries and holidays and how they can cause emotional angst. I guess I have another one. I had a major accident last year that almost took my life and I am sad in the fact that I will never be the same again. I have also had difficulties walking through this year as I don't know how anniversaries and different stimuli are going to affect me. Does this seem common?

Thanks, Meagan

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The first year after loss is full of unknowns

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This weekly column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

Dear Dr. Ted:

I know you have written many articles on anniversaries and holidays and how they can cause emotional angst. I guess I have another one. I had a major accident last year that almost took my life and I am sad in the fact that I will never be the same again. I have also had difficulties walking through this year as I don't know how anniversaries and different stimuli are going to affect me. Does this seem common?

Thanks, Meagan

Dear Meagan:

Wow! It sounds like you have had an enormous year and I hope your physical and emotional recovery is moving forward and allowing quality of life to return to you.

Your comment about not being the same ever again is a profound insight, as you are correct that after major experiences, you will never be the same even if you long for who you used to be. Grief does not take away the experience, but allows you to integrate that experience into your present life.

A loss does not mean that you have to lose all the ways you perceived yourself before that loss, but it does change you, and the grief process helps meld the new experience into your history and how you define yourself and the world around you. The first year after an impactful loss can be full of unknowns, which may feel like a very rocky path in which each step has a feeling of not knowing how you will land. Will it be slippery? Will it have it be smooth or rough?

The questions of what is next is common, and makes sense as you are on new grounds with a new perspective of the world around you. The first year you may feel you have no information on what may happen next as you have not walked through it yet. Not knowing what it will be like for your birthday and what you should do, how to work with the anniversary of the event that caused disruption in your life and how to navigate other people during these different poignant dates can all be difficult.

Each year after your loss, you have more information on how you will walk through those dates that may be emotionally charged. What I have found that helps me walk through difficult anniversaries or dates is to pick something that you plan to do. I pick something small like lighting a candle, going for a walk, taking time to connect spiritually or anything that allows me to pause, be quiet and honor that moment without being confined by that day. This allows my brain some level of autonomy and action so that fear and anxiety do not capture me and I am not confined by the past.

From there, I stay open to what emotions arrive for the anniversary and I can give myself permission to be sad, mad, grateful, melancholic or any other emotion that arrives, and to be with the unknown with gentleness for that day. You will also learn to know if this is more of a private, individual or group event. Finding ceremony and ritual helps emotionally hold you during these unknown steps as you also gain knowledge on the path of healing.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com.

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