Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When Anniversaries Come Around

Sunday marked two years since the day our beloved cat Luna died, only 9 years old, from a very fast and aggressive cancer. I can’t believe it’s been that long already. I can’t believe it hasn’t been longer than that.
I am still absently haunted by the moment I held her head, held her gaze at death. Her eyes widened that last instant, when she felt she was dying. I am haunted by those two seconds still. But being with her in the moment of her death, at the end of the day, means the world to me.
On Sunday afternoon we made a small altar with her food bowl, her ashes, her favorite cat toy and the bowl our friend crafted for us, including some of her bone and ash kneaded into the clay. I might not have done it if the day passed with ease, but I felt the pull of loss and missed her. So we made the altar and we lit candles and we cuddled our remaining cats closer and spoiled them with lap, treats and catnip.
Remembering her makes it easier to miss her without feeling that stab of pain in my chest. She lived, she was loved, she changed my life and I will not be the same because of what we shared. I am a better human for the experience she gave me with raising a kitten and sharing a house with another independent thinker.
The trick to living, to surviving loss, is to learn tools to help us honor those days that are difficult and painful reminders (because they do come) without succumbing to a dark room, a pint of ice cream and all-day pajamas (personal experience). Emotion is not rational. We can endeavor to understand it and we can explain it away, but it lives in a separate part of our bodies. It is connected to our animal selves. We need to grieve.
Everyone experiences loss in different ways. The only sameness is that we all need to find a way to let ourselves feel what we’re feeling because it’s the only way we can process through it. Some do that in groups of people, some do it alone. Some do it all at once and some do it a little at a time, with ten minutes here and ten minutes there. But memorializing a day and putting too much focus on “this is the day to grieve” is against our animal instincts.
We’re animals. I’ll say that a lot because it humanizes us to remember it.

Grandpa Dick
Spring is a strange mix of happiness and sorrow for me. Following Luna’s death date by two weeks is the day my Grandpa died, eight years past. It seems impossible that a man who was such a vital part of my life has been out of it for so long. I miss him every time I think of him. But I am grateful for his part in my world. And when I miss him too much and wish I could talk to him again, I do. I talk to him out loud to get the things I want to say off my chest and my mind.
Anniversaries don’t affect everyone the same. Neither does death or grief. But for some people, the date can carry heavy emotional context for those left behind. It’s true that death occurs every day, but the ones that affect us happen more infrequently, if we’re lucky. So those days mean more, matter more because it’s personal.
To the world, March 25 is a Sunday, a day of rest. For the first years, it was a return of the day my family sat vigil and watched my Grandpa die. It was as if I poured all of my pain and sorrow and sadness into the date, giving it magical power over me. If that was true, I thought, I could take that power away. I could change the affect the day has on me. So I did.
My Grandpa was a man who enjoyed life and the world he lived in. He did his best to keep moving forward after my Grandma died, even after he got sick. The best way I can honor him is to live my life. I opened my world, saying yes to things I haven’t tried before, like circle dancing, Thai food, and singing solo in a bardic circle of strangers.
They may not be big leaps, but I keep pushing out the edges of my known universe, literally expanding my horizon, in honor of the love I have for him. I push myself to be open to new things so that I may become a better person, in honor of the life that they are not living. It’s not penance. It’s embracing my life because I love them. Because they loved me and it’s what they would have wanted for me.
*Make an altar with gifts, photos and other items that remind you of them.
*Have mutual friends over and share stories about them.
*Find a karaoke bar and sing their favorite song.
*Do something you heard them say they always wanted to try.
*Make their favorite meal for your family.
*Write a story about them. Tell it to your children.
*Plant their favorite flowers or vegetables in your summer garden.
*Do something you have always wanted to do.
The possibilities are endless. Our culture is so removed from the process of death that we lost the tools to grieve. We have to learn to honor the death, feel the loss and honor the life again in living our own. Every breath you take, every act of kindness you commit, every shoulder you give and every smile you share is a gift you offer, and it speaks to the effect that your loved ones had on the person you have become. It is the best way we remember them.

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