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Carol's Columns

How Can I Handle This Anxious Recurring Situation?

A bereaved parent said, "Memorial Day weekend eight years ago was the 'beginning of the end' for my son who had a terminal illness. Each year, even though this weekend signifies the beginning of summer, I become anxious and depressed without even thinking about the time of year. How can I handle this situation in a better way?"

The death of your son was a traumatic experience that runs deep and rears its head every year, whether you are aware of it or not. This is often referred to as the "anniversary syndrome." It is a post-traumatic stress (PTSD) reaction and a common occurrence given the death of your beloved son. I often experienced the same reaction after the death of my daughter in November. As the smells and changes in the weather from summer to fall came around, I would notice myself getting anxious and moody. I knew that this had to do with the anniversary of Krissie's death, but even with that awareness, my feelings persisted.

Your acknowledgment of the situation is the first step. There are certain times when grief builds up, and this is one of those times for you. A great way to help yourself is to take some private time to focus on your son. I have a Krissie Journal that I pull out at such times and write a letter to her about all that I'm feeling. Sometimes I write a few paragraphs and sometimes a few pages. Write as if you are having an actual conversation with your son, and tell him all the things you would do if he were here. Let him hear about your sadness and frustration of not having him near and whatever other feelings you might have. You may find yourself writing about fun memories as well. Who knows, but write it all. Write until you have no more to say. Play some of his favorite music, look at his handsome pictures and let yourself go. This can be a very special time with you and your son.

Try also to imagine what your son would say back to you in your conversation with him. Would he want to wipe away your tears and take away your sadness? I think so. I think he would want you to have a good summer. You may want to do this a few times. I can assure you that this will help.

These grief emotions are very powerful, and when we bottle them up we get even more anxious and depressed. They don't want to be stuffed down. They need an outlet. They need to be expressed. Trust yourself. Remember, there are no emotions that you can't handle! While they may be painful, they are yours, and confronting them will make them less painful and you stronger. This may take some time, but it is the way to heal.