Today is the fourth anniversary of my Mother’s death. I was at the clinic when she died and could not attend her funeral as I was deemed too suicidal and as my Psychiatrist said at the time “If you go to that funeral you’ll come back in a pine box”. Here I am again fourth anniversary and in the clinic again with all the same old problems back on the surface. Eulogies pass back and forth between my siblings and old photos are brought out and mused over and I stare at that smiling assassins’ face wondering in amazement -could she really have been responsible for all that those atrocities over fourteen years?The eyes twinkle out of the photo and she holds up her wine glass and butter would not melt in her mouth, yet this is the same woman who rained blow upon blow down upon my emaciated body locked in that Hotel room, selling my infantile body to men to feast upon at their leisure.
In Irish culture a death anniversary is marked by a Catholic Mass being said if Catholic. This means nothing to me. Being abused by Priests I have no respect or regard for the Catholic Church and no Priest I have spoken to since has given me any solace or peace with regard to what happened. I welcome the Royal Commissions that have taken place in various countries but remain appalled at responses such as those given by men such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia who clearly puts the reputation of the Church before the needs of the victims.
Each anniversary does not get easier, harder if anything as I continue to struggle with Complex PTSD and Trauma and associated flashbacks. It is the second week of my Psychotherapist being away so naturally, that has not helped. I welcome her return next Thursday.
While the focus is often put on the death and funeral of a loved one, grief and pain can continue for months or years afterwards. The anniversary of a death can be especially painful because it can bring the feelings of loss and heartache previously experienced right back to the present. Taking time to discuss your positive memories of your loved one is one way to cope with the anniversary of a beloved friend or family member’s death. But what is those memories are not positive. What if they are terribly traumatic because the so called ‘loved one’ is the perpetrator’ of all your sexual abuse.
What to Say
Grief is a long process and it can vary between people, so addressing the anniversary of a loved one’s death with other friends or family members should involve caution. If the other person brings up the deceased first, you might mention any fond memories or ask how the other person is doing and feeling, according to the Everplans article, “How to Express Sympathy: What to Say and What Not to Say.” If you are the one struggling, it can be helpful to find a caring friend who will be willing to just listen without judgement and who recognizes that trying to tell someone what to do or how to feel is counterproductive.
Keeping Memories Alive
Some families may hide all pictures of a late loved one during the grieving process — but keeping items like pictures close can actually help the grief-stricken. Adults and children alike may find some comfort in creating scrapbooks, slideshows and videos of the deceased’s life or in displaying favourite pictures of a late family member, Focusing on the positive memories of the deceased can ease your pain as you feel connected to your loved one.
These are all suitable strategies for anniversaries where a loved one has been lost and there has been a functional relationship but anniversaries, where there has been a dysfunctional relationship such as child abuse, is a minefield fraught with difficulties. I am acutely aware of both my parents birthdays and death dates and they bring up a cauldron of emotions. My parents were the perpetrators of hideous and macabre crimes against me but yet bizarrely I still yearn for their love and have not reconciled to their passing and find it hard to believe their dead.
Many people refer to the date of their loved one’s death as an anniversary. I can’t bring myself to do it. It actually makes me cringe every time I try to say it or explain what April 18th means to me. The word “anniversary” has an intended association with joy, celebration, and happiness, so why would I want to acknowledge the loss of my Mother?
None of us ever imagined having to say good-bye so soon, so suddenly, so tragically to the ones we love, which leads me to believe that none of us is feeling particularly celebratory as the date draws near. We all have that one day. A day filled with dread and loaded with dismal realisations; our own person D-Day. No, I can’t bring myself to call it an anniversary so “death-versary” it is. Sounds a bit morbid, I know. But how else can I honestly begin to approach this day? My family flatly refuse to acknowledge her or my father’s anniversary’s hating them for what they did to me so I am left alone with my therapist to try and work through this day each year. I am always more suicidal around this time so it is a dangerous period also as flashback come flooding in.
I have come to the conclusion through negotiation with my therapist the best way of handling it each year is to write a letter to them both on their respective days and I burn it in the fire solemnly saying goodbye to them. I tell them I love them and no, in case your wondering, I do not say I forgive them because I do not. They destroyed my childhood and adolescent years. Now my fifties have been ravaged by Complex PTSD and suicidality so no, I do not forgive them. You only have one set of parents and they were mine, so like it or not part of me still loves them and yearns for the love they never gave, wondering what I did that was so wrong. That is what I write to them each year. The burning is ceremonial and representative of letting go and it allows me to move forward a little bit each time I do it. I have done it four times for them both now and it has helped and is therapeutic.
So even ambivalent anniversaries for those of us suffering child abuse at the hands of our parents can be marked in some way and in a way that can alleviate some of the sufferings that you are experiencing.