Photo from 1988 of Jason and I. In this picture he is about 8 months old.

Photo from 1988 of Jason and I. In this picture he is about 8 months old.

A card sent to me from my sister-in-law Jo, a few years after Jason died.

The memory of Jason as ringbearer for my brother’s wedding to Jo.

A card sent to me by my mother, on what would have been Jason’s birthday.

Recently, I have had many revelations.

When I first began writing I thought I hadn’t written anything since the fifth grade, when I wrote short stories. At that time, my teacher felt I had a gift for writing, and she shared that with me.

But then I remembered later on, that I had kept a diary starting in high school. For that I have to thank my amazing English teacher, Mrs. Rollo. I have planned to call and reconnect with her very soon. From that first day when my English teacher had me begin writing a “Stream of Consciousness” on a piece of lined paper, I faithfully kept a diary.

I wrote in my diary all through the rest of high school, and then in college.

After I was married at the age of twenty-one, I wrote intermittently for a year or two. Then I stopped. That was in 1983.

As I have begun writing this blog, I have delved into many areas of my past. I’ve sorted through many of my advocacy letters, as well as the speeches for important occasions. The most difficult thing for me to write was Jason’s eulogy because I only had a brief moment to summarize my dead child’s life. I was writing while in a state of shock and numbness.

Jason was my five-year-old son that died in 1992 from a congenital heart defect.

It wasn’t until I began sorting through sentimental cards; however, that I realized how much writing I have done on cards. Writing on cards has been another form of expressing my feelings. I have always saved special cards. Except for some I’ve copied recently, I don’t have any of the ones I’ve sent!

Today, I had yet another realization.

It is May, and the weather has begun to change. The gentle warmth invokes feelings that summer is just around the corner. In this warmth of seasonal change, my heart has begun to ache. It is a very slow and almost imperceptible process. That is why I’ve named my story, “May I cry?”

For bereaved humans, there is an acute awareness of everything I am going to speak about.

The change of seasons from summer to autumn always brings me sadness, due to Jason’s death in October. However it was today that I realized this is another season of sadness for me.

I had hoped it would wait. It wasn’t time yet for me to write about my “Anniversary of the Heart.” It wasn’t until May 28th. It is far too soon!

Or is it?

Of course, I must explain the meaning of “Anniversary of the Heart.” “Anniversaries of the Heart” represents two specific days related to bereavement; the day of your loved one’s death and the day of their birth. I say death first, because that day is usually filled with far more trauma.

When I say I’ve started to feel sadness with the first day of May, I am speaking about certain feelings surrounding the “pain of anticipation.”

There is no containment of feelings related to the specific date for an Anniversary of the Heart. As I share what this means for me, it could apply to anyone suffering with his or her grief. It might have been my child for me, but this actually applies to any significant loss – a sister, brother, parent, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, or friend.

Not only is an “Anniversary of the Heart” a sad day, there is a build-up to it that lasts for a period of sometimes even a month! Often, on the actual day there is some relief from the pain that began weeks earlier. Once the actual day has passed, the aura of sadness gradually begins to fade.

For me, there is an extremely, exquisite pain on the day of my child’s birthday.

It represents the pain of what might have been!

My son is “frozen in time.” He will never grow up beyond five years of age.

I never realized until recently, how affected I was by the change of seasons. I can try to describe how those seasonal changes feel.

With the chill of autumn in October, I remember how worried I was when my little boy first died. I thought of him in his coffin, and how cold he was when I touched him last. As a caregiver for him, I could not quickly or easily let go of how much I missed taking care of him. I thought that wherever he was, he needed a blanket!

The very last picture I have in my album. Extreme sadness knowing there were no more pictures after that.

With the warmth of May, I can hear his gurgling laughter again. I remember how he swam so happily the last summer of his life. His last birthday party evokes such powerful images. He was alive, and elated at the amazing puppeteer we had hired to perform at his party. My friends and their children surrounded us on that beautiful day. I have great comfort knowing that my son’s last birthday was so wonderful.

A scene from Jason’s last birthday party.

Just writing what I have, has me going back to the days when I was a leader for the Compassionate Friends organization. I believe it was the most difficult thing I have ever done.

I good friend of mine named Becky took over for me. I was only a leader for a short time, because it was far too demanding of me. Becky took over for me and led the group for far longer than was required of her. She was very conscientious and ran the group for over fifteen years. I was so fortunate that Becky took the reins from me!

I accept my son’s death now after eighteen years. Lest anyone tell me that I need to get on with my life, I have. I am joyful and no longer grieving my son intensely.

I am not the same person I was before his death. I was so innocent and unscathed by life. I used to view this as another loss.

Only recently, I see it now as something I have gained. The insights that I can share have been significant for me.

The first few years of my bereavement were filled with pain from about any memory possible. It was one great blur of sadness and agony.

With time, my healing was due to “detachment,” and finally acceptance. The pain was not excruciating any longer, although it could be remembered for its intensity. I could describe it quite vividly. It was a black hole that swallowed up every speck of color in the world.

I don’t feel that kind of pain anymore – even on “Anniversaries of the Heart.”

However, this experience was mine, not anyone else’s. Grief is a very personal journey. It wasn’t until I had more detachment, that I could analyze my pain more accurately. After so many years, it has become more bittersweet. I feel tremendous appreciation for what I have, and the depth of my love for my living children fuels my life.

I used to live with the fear of facing future loss, but recently I decided to let go of that. There is no purpose to grieve for what might happen!

For people who are grieving, there are many more painful days beyond the “Anniversaries of the Heart.” Unfortunately, the other days that I speak of are numerous.

I tend to collect other people’s grief stories. For my friend, Lori, both of her “Anniversaries of the Heart” are within weeks of each other. Her son was born in November. He was three when he dropped dead from an unknown, heart defect in her living room. He was chasing his older brother around a coffee table. His death was a few days before Thanksgiving. For the rest of Lori’s life, she will never have anything remotely resembling a traditional Thanksgiving celebration again.

I know a couple whose daughter died on January 6th. Every New Year’s celebration brings the reminder that the New Year to celebrate does not include their beloved daughter.

Today, I found out that someone I haven’t played tennis with in a long time lost her adult son in December. Christmas will forever be marked for her. Now it is reaching the six-month mark. I have mentioned before that six months into bereavement is about the worst time possible. I sent her a message today. I told her I would be thinking of her on this first Mother’s Day without her son.

The first year of bereavement is full of those “firsts!”

By the second year, it may appear that it hasn’t gotten any easier. It felt that way for me for a very, long time. Eventually, after many years it got easier.

I started out writing this story because of my anticipation about my approaching “Anniversary of the Heart.”

May invokes many other feelings for me because of the holiday of Mother’s Day.

I am a mother, and I celebrate my motherhood with deep appreciation.

I also celebrate my own mother’s inspirational survival this year.

There are so many feelings I have about this holiday that I will write more in another story.

If I can offer any advice or insight, it would be to heighten the awareness toward those that are suffering on Mother’s Day. There is a great deal of suffering surrounding this holiday.

For those that are mourning, it is a most painful time!

I have the perspective of a bereaved mother longing for a child.

I am thinking of Cheryl and her family, of her mother and also of her children longing for their mother.

Mother’s Day is a very painful day for someone mourning the loss of his or her mother. I haven’t gone through that door yet – I cannot speak to the pain. It will be my sister-in-law’s first one without her mother. Therefore, I have already found a special card to send her.

After all, my sister-in-law, Jo, has remembered Jason’s “Anniversaries of the Heart” faithfully for the last 18 years!

I know that this is the first Mother’s Day for a relative of mine that suddenly lost her husband last year. How could she not feel the intense pain of her loss on this day? Her beloved husband is not there to celebrate this holiday with her.

There are granddaughters mourning their grandmother. There are grandmothers and grandfathers who are mourning the loss of their grandchild, and especially feeling their daughter’s pain on this holiday. There are sisters and brothers that are mourning. There are even friends that are feeling sad for the surviving family that their friend left behind!

I hope I haven’t left anyone out.

This is an excellent time to reach out to someone you care about who is grieving. Let them know that you are thinking of them and are sad about their loss.

The acknowledgement of grief is usually appreciated when it is done in a caring manner. Pretending it isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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