There are no easy deaths – there are no situations where the grief experience isn’t difficult, complex, and sad. That said, there is a generally accepted threshold where lives are deemed as having been “lived, good and long.” When 90 year olds die, we grieve but we do not grapple with a sense of injustice.
But there are some (too many) deaths that are non-sensical, tragic, and far too soon. I think of the anniversary of 9/11 and the tradition of reading of the names of those that died – it gives me chills every time and is a witness to the different grief we experience in tragic deaths and young deaths.
In the last year, I had a baby, and 2 very close friends of mine, had miscarriages. As a normal, selfish human, my thoughts moved to how these deaths were losses in my life – in my daughter’s life. The friends she was never going to meet. The other little people that would and should have been in all of the landmark photos – first day of school, high school graduations, weddings, etc. You know how in “Back to the Future” Marty’s siblings start to fade from the photo as the past begins to change? The image I can’t get out of my head is a picture from the future of my daughter with these 2 dear friends – except these friends are faded into black and white and unable to bring back into color. It brings me to tears even now. I am grieving these friends that none of us will ever know and I’ve realized that I think I will continue to think about these missing people for the rest of my life.
This is grief compounded. Every highpoint, significant moment, celebration that we have for Eden will be flagging in my mind the other 2 people we might also be celebrating. In other words, these initial losses are suffered and grieved, but as we’ve said before, the grief does not end. Because there are futures left empty we will constantly be wondering at how they might have been filled and wishing we could see the reactions and smiles.
I’m not hypothesizing that the grief grows more severe over time, but rather that our grief is perpetuated and can resurface painfully around anniversaries and other special occasions. Certain experiences come to pass that we find ourselves wishing they were here to see – we realize how much we are missing out on, how much richer the moment might have been – how we miss them still.
As a Thanatologist and someone who knows a thing or two about grief, I struggle in giving advice for this one. I know enough about grief to say there are no “fixes” but there are ways of coping and planning head. Looking ahead and making emotional and spiritual preparations for significant events or anniversaries that are hard is something I would highly recommend.
The anniversary of 9/11 is still something that I anticipate each year and I prepare. I plan to listen to the news that morning, like I was 16 years ago. I visited the site in 2015 and I will look through photos of the memorial and grieve and remember with others online. These are relatively small things now in comparison with what I used to do, but it’s what I want and need to do.
Make a plan, there are going to be unexpected sorrows along the way you can’t prepare for – that’s grief. But when you can, brace as best you can and just know it will be really hard, but you’ll make it.