The other day I came across a rerun of Oprah Winfrey’s television show. Interior designer Nate Berkus was one of her guests. He was there to talk about recovering from loss, something Berkus knows all too well. Five years ago his life partner was killed in the tsunami that wrecked havoc on Thailand.
When the date appeared on the calendar, Berkus would have an anniversary reaction and mourn again. In time, however, he came to think of the date as just a number. “I took back the power,” he explained.
I understand his explanation because I lost four loved ones, my elder daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law, within nine months. Though I have taken back the power, as Berkus puts it, doing it was a struggle. The question is why?
First, I was coping with the death of a child, which is against the laws of nature. The nature of death also affects anniversary reactions. Berkus’ partner was swept away by the water. Blunt force trauma is the official cause of my daughter’s death. Both are horrific causes.
The number of the day matters to me. My daughter was born on the 23rd of the month and died on the 23rd as well. This coincidence is mysterious, perplexing, and haunting. I deal with it as best I can and am grateful for my daughter’s life and her marvelous twins — my grandchildren.
Bob Deits discusses anniversary reactions in his book, “Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss.” He thinks the first anniversary of a loved one’s death is “particularly significant.” You have gotten through the year and survived. Successive anniversary dates, like the 18-month mark, are painful. Yet Diets says we can think of them as bumps in the recovery road.
Multiple losses also made it harder for me to “take back the power.” Recovering from one loss is hard enough, but recovering from four is like a grief tsunami. There are more arrangements to make, more life questions to answer, and more secondary losses. Though I cannot speak for Nate Berkus, I think attitude helped him reclaim his personal power.
Most mourners come to realize they should make the most of life. Pesach Krauss and Morrie Goldfisher make this point in their book, “Why Me? Coping with Grief, Loss and Change.” They think the miracle of life should not be wasted and say “each day is a canvas upon which we paint the picture of our lives.”
The picture I am painting of my new life is not one I expected. My husband of 53 years is the basis of the painting. Being a GRG — grandparent raising grandchildren — is part of it. Writing is in the picture, too. Though my painting is unfinished, it is a happy one. You have the ability to reclaim your personal power and paint a new picture of your life. Make it colorful!
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson
Updated: April 12, 2013