Even as I am feeling sad inside my head, louder I hear her voice … “Oh for crying out loud, sister” or words to that effect. “It’s been blooming four years! Time to let me go and think about more interesting things.” I wish I weren’t such an anniversary hound, but that’s not likely to change now.
I remember driving my husband nearly potty when I used to remember the anniversary of our first date (still do) and he could barely even recall my birthday after 25-plus years together. He still has to very cautiously enquire “exactly” when our wedding anniversary is as the day approaches. Some of us just have that memory gene, which can be a blessing as well as a curse.
As the fourth anniversary of Rosie’s passing approached, I felt fractious and uptight. I felt angry and ripped off all over again, deeply sunken into a black mood. I dreamed about her and woke up missing her too much — all over again. So many self-righteous and entitled folk are still out here walking and breathing on our planet and my sister is now a mere skeleton wrapped in a blanket facing Allah on a Turkish hillside.
True, her spirit swings around once in a while, like the host of dragonflies that flew before me in the road to lighten my load, or the divinest yellow butterfly near my head; but it’s not enough, never enough. I couldn’t put my finger on my renewed anger and freshly fertile grief except to say that, for some of us, a painful anniversary such as the passing of your baby sister, serves to rip the band-aid off the still tender wound and cause you to feel all of those very difficult emotions all over again.
“Four years? I thought it was three,” said father. He’s not one of the anniversary obsessives like me. Maybe no one is. I started work on my Rosie boat in the Secret Garden, my own personal memorial to her that I visit every day, but only touch up once a year. I couldn’t find any wood glue to fix the letters of her name back on the boat. That made me cry. Yes, really. God, I was that fragile.
Then I came home to 12 cream-colored roses from my husband who seldom buys flowers — and these were my wedding roses. I stopped in my tracks and realized that, though others can’t tread the memory path the way I can, they are able to understand how difficult those days can be for me and that was so helpful that day. It almost assisted with the scab starting to heal over again.
Friends of mine popped up and sent words of love, knowing that this transition through another anniversary was going to make everything raw and real again. My middle sister texted me that she knew I was going to have a tough day. She’s not on the same memory go-around as me, but I know she struggles similarly through the difficult days — she just manages it better and would likely never cry over lost glue.
I couldn’t finish a story that day, couldn’t read a book or do anything useful. The wood glue was not found, so the Rosie boat was not repaired or repainted that day and I felt so guilty about that. How can you mark an important anniversary like that with a custom that you can’t fulfil? Having not had the wood glue to hand, I had royally failed at that.
What I did do was to take the day off and talk to her in my mind. I looked through photos, laughed at clips of old videos and was pretty self-indulgent the entire daylight hours. Me and her, her and me — it was our day. In the evening I drank a glass of good red and indulged in a bubble bath with a magazine. The next day it was back to regular life and work. I felt cleansed and better. I had survived another anniversary.
The wood glue was later purchased, and the Rosie boat restored to her former glory. Days later I had the courage to pick up my book about Rosie that I hadn’t even looked at since it was published. I flicked through pages and laughed out loud at that girl. My goodness she was a hoot.
So many lovely memories and great photos, moments in time encapsulated inside the 400 or so carefully written pages. And then some great grief lines in the back section that I’m quite proud of (Words of Sadness, Memory, Grief, Love and Solace) that bear repeating on occasion, since we all go through the stages of grief in our lives, not all memory hounds like me; but most of us, if we are honest, stumble through the process. Not well, I might add.
My daughter’s school friend was murdered last week in Nevada. My kid struggled immensely with this horrific news. “I hope she knew what a good friend she was to me,” she tells me. “Tell her,” I said. “Sit out under the stars and tell her.” “I can’t stop thinking about her,” she said. “In my dreams, there were five coffins and I had to look in each one to find her.” I hurt so deeply for her family left behind.
Yes, grief, that thing, so difficult to navigate — no matter whether your loved one dies of a terminal illness or is murdered. Grief grabs you by the throat and throws you to the ground, pretty much without exception. Sometimes it holds you there for a very long time, sometimes you are thrown back into its mix by surprise — a song, a word, a memory, an anniversary. And there you are, back again, where you were before, drowning in waves of your own sorrow and gulping to come up for air.
I also told my daughter to write a letter to her friend and then give it up to the universe. After Rosie died, I wrote several letters to her — a very therapeutic exercise. There are many tips inside my Rosie book for managing our grief and making appointments to meet with her at specific times. If you’d like a personalized copy, send me a text to 831-229-0663 and I’ll happily send you a copy, or my Rosie book — “The Rosebud and Her Brilliant Adventures” — is available on Amazon and at the Downtown Book & Sound in Salinas.
“Well before Rosie passed away, I knew I would be writing her story — a patchwork quilt of her life … little did I know what a therapeutic experience this would be for my own grieving process. When I got close to the end of the manuscript, I started to grieve just a little all over again.” —Me
“Grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love.” —Author unknown