Anniversary reactions are the strong physical and emotional effects experienced on or around the anniversary of a particular trauma. Our bodies remember even if we don’t, and for those of us grieving the loss of an intrinsic person in our lives, body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries.
Body memory is often associated with extreme stress. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.
People often tell us to try to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds. They have the erroneous idea that if we don’t think of our mates, then we won’t grieve.
At first, it’s impossible not to think of our loved ones all the time. Perhaps we feel as if by holding them in our minds, we can stave off their death, even though it’s already happened. Or maybe we want to continue to feel connected. Or it could be that the enormity of death is so overwhelming, we can’t think of anything else.
But eventually, we do learn not to hold as tightly to these thoughts, and sometimes we even forget to think of our loved ones. But our bodies still keep the faith.
When the brain is overwhelmed with stress and trauma, such as when we are dealing with the death of a life mate, the brain imprints the memory on its fear circuits. Later, when a date or a scent or a sound or the weather triggers that memory, we feel the undiluted power of the trauma.
Now that I no longer have these body memories, I purposely try to remember Jeff’s death anniversary. It’s a way of honoring him, of being grateful he was in my life, of celebrating what we once had.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.