I was standing in the car park beside my house, with the low winter sunshine streaming into my eyes, and suddenly I felt overwhelmingly sad, and I didn’t know why.
It was the middle of December, and it was five years after the funeral of our baby who’d miscarried at fourteen weeks. Suddenly, I realised what was going on.
The conditions were very similar. It was the same time of year, and the same time of day – and it was just as cold! I was facing in the same direction as when I stood for the little ceremony beside our baby’s open grave, and the sunlight was streaming into my eyes, in just the same way as it had done on that afternoon.
And this sunlight “triggered” waves of old sadness and grief from that past occasion, even though it was five years later, and I was in a different place - at my house - just waving off a friend who’d been to visit.
I had no idea that such occurrences were possible! It was a major revelation to me. Anniversaries of bereavements can be much more than just dates in the calendar.
If you’ve experienced losses, you may have been through similar kinds of situations – and like me, you may not have understood what was happening, and why you suddenly felt so sad, for no apparent reason. Here are a number of things which it can be helpful to know about…
1. We are "keeping track" of anniversaries in lots of different ways
When something distressing and life-changing happens, our bodies remember it, and they store away all sorts of details which we’re not consciously aware of. This includes the time of year; daylight lengths; and what the weather was doing on that occasion.
We’re cyclical creatures, and we’re more in touch with the rhythms of the seasons than we might realise. In generations past, daylight lengths and weather conditions were critical components in our survival, just as they are today for the wild birds and animals around us. Like them, we are programmed to be sensitive to their variations and changes, and to the ways that the environment alters as a result.
2. Our bodies remember distressing events
You may have heard the expression “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. This refers to the notion that when we survive something distressing, our bodies can store away the details of what happened, in case they’re helpful for surviving future threatening situations.
So they remember the details – and they bring them out again, if we find ourselves in a similar circumstance.
I can give you an example. If someone was involved in a car accident when they collided with a red lorry, then any passing red object might subsequently “trigger” a spontaneous emotional reaction in them, even if it’s only someone wearing a red jumper on a bicycle, and they only catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of their eye. Their bodies are now attuned to moving red objects, and they spring into action accordingly, to protect them.
Well, when we’ve experienced the acute distress of a bereavement, our bodies can do something similar. They can store some of the memories of the environment we were in at the time, and bring those emotional responses up again, when we find ourselves in similar physical circumstances.
And so we can find ourselves flooded with emotions which are nothing to do with what we’re actually experiencing in the present moment. They’ve come from a past situation, and our body presents us with them now, in case there’s something useful which can help us to survive.
And that can happen even if we’re not under any kind of threat, in the present moment. Our body is simply responding to some external “cue” which it stored in the course of the past distressing event, and which it is reminded of now.
And weather conditions and daylight length, are all part of these stored “cues.” Independent of our conscious mind, our body is keeping track, and it knows what time of year it is, and what happened at this time of year in the past. And it’s just trying to protect us from being hurt again in a similar way now.
3. You can use EFT "tapping" to un-link these "cues"
When I realised that it was the low, December sunlight that was triggering all this sadness, I used EFT “tapping” (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to un-link this particular “cue” from the memory of that occasion, in my body.
I “tapped” on the upsetting memory of the funeral, and in particular I focussed on the physical aspects – the way that my body had felt, and the emotions that I’d been experiencing - as the sunlight streamed into my eyes, and the sunshine warmed my face.
I kept tapping until it all felt much calmer and more neutral. I no longer felt sad and upset in the same way. And the beauty of the sunlight, and the pleasure of the warmth on my skin, no longer felt associated with this extremely sad occasion.
It was a very effective thing to do. I’ve found myself in similar sunlight conditions in subsequent years. And although there’s sometimes an acknowledgement of the date and the anniversary, there’s no longer any pain or sadness associated, and I just enjoy the sunshine. (And it’s so nice to have reclaimed that!)
4. Be kind and gentle with yourself
As anniversaries come and go, it’s worth being mindful of the fact that we can feel lots of strong emotions, and they can be very painful sometimes. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and treat yourself with extra care, and have compassion for what you’re going through.
It’s just not the same as it is at other times of year. And even if it was a long time ago, you’re still allowed to remember, and to feel any way that you do, no matter what other people might think. Your body is certainly keeping track at some level, so make sure that you’re extra gentle with yourself, and take this into account.
With love and best wishes,
~ Rosalind xxx