“Then I began to hit the milestones. On September 14 2016, seven weeks after Jeremy died, I woke up to my 41st Birthday, my first birthday in 20 years without him. My friends, Louise and Sue, came to spend the afternoon with me but I was a mess. I had never cried so much in my life. Every occasion, every birthday and anniversary, had been marked by a thoughtful, meaningful gesture: the mug of tea by the bedside, the accompanying card placed next to it, the little whisper in my ear: ‘Don’t let the tea go cold.’ Sometimes I thought I heard his key turn in the door and my heart would lift. Or I’d see a car’s headlights shine through the windows into the lounge and I would imagine it was his car. No. There was no key in the door, no card by my bedside, no car in our drive. My days were marked by the absence of these things, by the knowledge – the certain, unbearable knowledge that every birthday would now be like this. A year of lonely milestones lay ahead: his 60th birthday, our wedding anniversary, the first Christmas alone in the house, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day – all without him. The empty milestones stretched bleakly into the future.”
Excerpt from my book Always With You
I read this excerpt from my book written in the depths of my grief following the death of my beautiful, kind, handsome husband Jeremy and I realise what a long way I have come. Jeremy died two and half years ago – not such a long time in the great scheme of things and yet it feels like a life time ago.
My first year of grief was spent in sheer paralysis. Each day, each birthday, each anniversary, each special occasion – a harsh, piercing reminder of what I had lost. Often the sheer thought of an impending special day looming would be worse than the day itself. The dread, the panic attacks, the sleepless nights, the pacing up and down as if the faster I paced, the faster the day would come and I could get through it and it would be over. And yet, strangely, as the months passed, the days themselves got easier to deal with, it was the build-up that was unbearable.
On what would have been Jeremy’s 60th birthday and on the 20th anniversary of the day we met, I booked myself on two very expensive holidays to try and escape the silence and loneliness of the house. Of course, all I did was end up feeling lonely on the holidays, but getting away did help because it gave me something else to think about – the actual logistics of going on holiday and being in a new place and taking time to really think about us and our life together without the grind of daily life.
But of course, one can’t book expensive holidays for every special occasion, and as the months went by I decided that instead of dreading each birthday or anniversary I would plan something special to mark the day – and I would always link it to Jeremy to make it feel more special and to make sure that I was honouring his life and his death.
Reframing a milestone means that you remember the date for what it was and then you create a new memory on that day and so the day is less painful and less entrenched in the past but rather more about the here and now.
So, for example on Valentine’s Day in 2018 I booked myself in for a pamper day at a lovely spa. This year I launched my second book Online Dating @ 40. I don’t need a man to make this day special – I can do it for myself!
May 2018, the 21st anniversary of the day we met, I got my nose pierced, this year I’m getting a tattoo with the words “Always With You” and Jeremy’s and my initials on it.
On my 42nd birthday instead of crying into my glass of Prosecco at home alone, I invited 10 of my closest friends to join me at the pub for a night of dinner and laughter and yes…Prosecco!
On Jeremy’s 61st birthday I celebrated when my memoir Always With You became an Amazon bestseller – a way of saying to Jeremy – “here is a birthday present for you my darling”.
And on our wedding anniversary in November 2018 a photographer friend of mine and I did a photo tribute in a beautiful Surrey forest against the red autumnal colours – because it was Jeremy’s favourite season. You can read about that day here.
Grief is universal and yet so very personal – so what has worked for me may not work for you. But, if we can change the way we approach a day and make it a comforting connection to the person we love instead of a painful reminder of the huge loss we have endured, we may just take the edge off those important milestones.
Whatever you decide to do as you approach a milestone, the important thing is to stay true to yourself. Do what feels right for you, and most importantly what honours you and the love you once shared with your loved one.
Have you marked a specific occasion in a special/unusual way? I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Both my books are available at Amazon or at www.justjhoom.co.uk/shop/