Loss and Anniversary Reactions

Have you ever had the experience of feeling mildly or severely depressed but for no reason you can identify? It happens to us all the time. For example, one day, you are aware of having a headache, feeling tired and gloomy, but you do not know why. Friends and co-workers comment you need to be more enthusiastic. They comment you seem irritable and temperamental and that you were not aware that you acted that way.

Rose on a tombstone. Red rose on the grave. Love loss. Flower on a memorial stone close-up. Tragedy and sorrowful losing for losing a loved one. Memory. Gravestone with withered rose

Sometimes it takes someone who is a close friend, or it may take your spouse to remind you that today is the anniversary of your mother’s death, losing a good friend, or having been in a disaster some years ago. Suddenly, your memory is jogged, and it all falls into place. You realize that you have been mourning one or another of these tragic or traumatic events.

Every year, around December first or near the end of November, I feel “upset.” I thought I had mourned her loss and should have no difficulty remembering when she died. Still, in the business of my life, I completely forget that it is the anniversary of my mother’s death decades ago.

Now it is even worse for me. My wife died seven years ago of cancer. We were married for fifty years. Each year, as the anniversary of her death approaches, I feel depressed. However, I am aware of the reason I feel depressed. This year something different happened. Near the end of March, I became depressed. Here, I did not have a clue as to the reason. I suddenly jumped up from a deep sleep one night, and the reason for the depression flooded my mind. The day of our wedding anniversary was approaching. I was having an anniversary reaction to our wedding date.  

Anniversaries are powerful occurrences, whether we remember them. Many people, including myself, feel depressed, anxious, or physically ill but do not know why. Further exploration during the session often reveals that something terrible happened to them many years ago. The revelation is sometimes shocking because the event has been repressed. Upon recovering the memory of the anniversary, many people are shocked that they could have forgotten such an important event. Only a few people initially doubted that memory could affect today because it had occurred long ago. Still, they eventually admit to the truth of the event’s impact on their lives.

Some people suddenly fall ill, have an accident, or even feel suicidal without knowing why. In tragic circumstances, an individual may attempt suicide because of the depth of their depression. Some attempt suicide upon the anniversary of a loved one’s death many years before.

It is known that older adults who have been married to the same person for many decades suddenly pass away on the first anniversary of the death of their deceased husband or wife. It is also reported that individuals die when they reach the age at which their parents pass away. For example, there are those who, if a parent dies at age 65, will become ill and die when they achieve the same age of 65. An example of this was the death of Elvis Presley at age 41, the exact age at which his mother had died.

Such reactions as survivor guilt, in which an individual is convinced they should have died with family and friends in an accident or disaster, can provide an early death. In addition, unrealistic and unresolved guilt or grief reactions can lead to illness or death at or just before the anniversary of the death of a spouse, mother, father, or child.

Certain things can be done to avoid or minimize a repeat of a tragedy or loss. While it is normal to experience grief and depression after the death of a loved one, that reaction should gradually decrease during a six-month to one-year period after the death. If this does not happen, the grieving individual should be referred for psychotherapy and medication. 

Medication can relieve depression, but therapy is necessary to work through and resolve many thoughts and reactions to the loss.

In the same way, those who have lived through severe traumatic events should be helped with psychotherapy so that they come to an understanding of their survivor guilt and other feelings and reactions connected with PTSD.

The main point to be kept in mind is to remember that events that happened in the past continue to affect and influence our lives, even if we do not think so. It is important not to dismiss past tragedies and losses but to acknowledge them and let them into our awareness. The brain is a great computer that storehouses many memories and emotional reactions to those memories.

Remembrances of Things Past

Did you ever have the experience of returning to the house where you grew up? If so, did you have the experience that the house and its rooms were much smaller than they seemed when you were a child? Did you remember the backyard as very large only to discover, as an adult, how small it was?

There is a case study of a man who decided he wanted to visit the old neighborhood when he reached the age of sixty. He had several reasons for wanting to do this. For one, he had nostalgic feelings about the old place. When he and his friends got together, there was a tendency to reminisce about life back then. The theme was about the “good old days” and how those were the best times compared to the world now. He hoped to recapture memories of his parents and extended family. Maybe just turning seventy-five was reason enough for wanting to go back.

However, the outcome of his visit was not good. The old neighborhood was gloomy and narrow. The old friends no longer lived there; his parents and grandparents were gone. The neighborhood felt like an empty shell of what he remembered. He remembered that this was why he moved away and onward with his life. He returned feeling depressed and empty and vowed never to do that again. 

He realized those were not the “good” old days, but the “good” days are right now. Maybe, for some people, memories are better than reality. Indeed, the saying, “You can’t go home,” is true, at least for himself. If there is any concern about violating confidentiality, that man is me.

There are three reasons people visit their childhood homes:

1. They have a wish to reconnect with their childhood. Because many things from the past are forgotten, there is a hope that, by returning, they will recapture essential memories.

2. Some individuals going through a crisis or problem need to reflect on their past. They want to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make their decisions.

3. Because of having lived through abuse and trauma or having suffered from some abuse or trauma, there is a hope that by returning to the site where these things happened, they can both find closure and leave with a sense that they have healed.

 People romanticize memories but soon discover nothing was romantic about the places in which they spent childhood. If they were happy there, they could not recapture that happiness. For those who experienced abuse and trauma, the visit brought back pain rather than closure.

Too much time is spent living in the past or worrying about the future. A consequence is that we cannot appreciate it now. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher of meditation and mindful living, points out, we will never have this moment again, so live it, experience it, and be in the moment.

How many of us sit around during the holidays and listen to stories shared by your loved ones, such as grandparents or parents? Have you witnessed the emotions expressed by your loved ones? Listened to the details of the story? Even if you have heard the story before, you need to be an attentive listener because reminiscing serves a purpose in older adulthood.

The Stigma of Being Aged

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”

Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”

I do that too,” laughed the little old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”

The old man nodded, “So do I.”

But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems

Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

I know what you mean,” said the little old man.”

Shel Silverstein

Encapsulated in this quote are some issues with which the elderly, such as those in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, must cope. For most, aging brings diminished physical strength and capability, loss of loved ones, feelings of no longer being relevant or connected to the real world, and fears of being ignored. The many unresolved conflicts and struggles earlier in their lives are also brought into old age. The result of this is that many older people become depressed. Many people who are younger and depressing attempt to self-medicate their problems through alcohol and drug abuse.

The aged can become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it’s insidious because people believe that it’s not possible incorrectly. Therefore, they drink and abuse drugs secretly and alone.

For many years, it was the belief that psychotherapy could not work for the elderly because they are set in their ways and find therapy stigmatizing. After all, that was the attitude towards psychology when they were young. However, attitudes toward mental illness have changed, including among older persons. 

Today, many older people are more than willing to enter psychotherapy. They are seeking psychological help late in life. They want help on how to cope with age and their relationships with family and still unresolved issues from the past. In addition, some older adults want therapy to help them deal with the present and behavior. Psychotherapy works for the elderly because of wanting to be free of depression and relieve social isolation. Group therapy benefits those who feel alone and derives benefits from talking with others. 

It is essential to know that aged people are not necessarily miserable and sick. Today, more people not only live longer than ever before but remain vital and involved in life.

Examining some ways older people are stereotyped and stigmatized is essential.

The Terror of Death and Mortality

“Every day is a new beginning.

Take a deep breath,

Smile and start the day.” author unknown

The purpose of this blog article is not to be morbid but to remind all of us of the importance of living life fully.

Human Beings are unique in being self-aware and therefore understand the inevitability of death. That awareness presents us with an existential crisis. 

From the beginning of time, people have asked themselves the existential question, “If I am doomed to die, what is the point of my life?” It is a terrifying question, and different people have attempted to answer it differently.

Those who are deeply religious deny there is an existential crisis because faith brings the achievement of an afterlife. For these people, life is not limited but continues for all eternity. 

According to Ernest Becker, in his book “The Denial of Death,” most people put the notion of death out of their awareness and go about living without thinking about their mortality. However, sometimes the fact of death breaks through to their conscious minds. When that happens, they become temporarily terrified until the crisis passes and they achieve a new balance. What causes mortality to break through to consciousness? The death of friends, relatives, and loved ones confronts even the greatest deniers that life is finite.

Depression and Anxiety

Some seem to have difficulty denying the fact of death. Among these are individuals who struggle with panic and anxiety disorders and various types of depression. Today, we can look at many of the causes of these disorders and find such factors as chemical imbalances in the brain, traumatizing childhoods and adulthoods, and such problems as neglect, abuse, and addictions.

Because of a better understanding of the causes of emotional disorders, we have significantly improved treatments with medications and more precise types of psychotherapies.

Yet, we overlook the importance and even reality of each person’s existential crisis. I believe this crisis lies at the roots of depression and anxiety, besides those factors already mentioned. If this is true, what can we do about it besides medication and psychotherapy?

We each need to find meaning in our lives. As Irvin Yalom, MD states in many of his writings, meaning comes to us through interpersonal relationships.

Yalom states that the realization and knowledge that we positively influence others can provide a sense of meaning in our lives. However, many people do not realize that they have an enormous influence on the lives of others. Whether they are friends or family, they are essential to us, and we are important to them. There are also the relationships with those at work and those we casually meet while walking in the street, riding the bus or train, and shopping in the supermarket and clothing store. That is why loneliness is so deadly.

The pursuit of materialism is one activity many people engage in to fill themselves with a sense of gratification. However, though temporarily exciting, feelings of emptiness return. The unquenchable thirst for buying unnecessary items comes from a sense of meaninglessness, which then causes the feeling of inner emptiness.

 Each of us is unique, and we are loved and valued by the important people in our lives.

As John Donne said it centuries ago:

“No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Donne meant three things:

1. That none of us are isolated because we are all interconnected,

2. We are all aware of death,

3. One man’s death diminishes all humanity.


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