In medicine professionals have observed the “anniversary syndrome” where a person who lost a loved one on a certain date, may be likely to die on the anniversary of that loved one’s death. My own grandmother would have died exactly to the minute three years after my grandfather died in a car wreck if she had only lived another couple of hours.
I’ve had patients who were “comatose” who were expected to die “any minute,” but held out for weeks until a loved one could travel from the other side of the world to be there…and once that beloved person arrived, they died that day.
It is amazing to me how people can “control” the timing of their passing to coincide with an anniversary. It is also amazing to me how people who are so deathly ill that you would think they couldn’t live another day, live for weeks or months until something that they are waiting for to happen does. Then, they “let go” and pass out of this world.
Medical science has now determined that there is such a thing as “broken heart syndrome” where a trauma (death of a long time spouse or other traumatic event) will actually “break” the heart of the survivor and they will die from a heart attack. Stress is a powerful thing, having physical as well as emotional consequences.
I grew up in a time when death was more often something that happened in the home where the ill, infirm, and aged passed away with their family around their bed, so I was never “afraid” of death and it held no mystery to me. One of my earliest memories, I was probably 3 or 4 years old, was walking with my grandmother to the home of a neighbor who lived about a fourth of a mile from our house, to help the women of that family “lay out” the dead man, wash his body and dress him for the undertaker to pick up later. After embalming, the body would be brought back to the home in the coffin and a “wake” would take place and the men of the neighborhood would “sit up” with the body all night until it was taken to the church and to bury the next day. Anniversaries of those passings were memorialized by the families for decades.
Anniversaries of various traumatic events, whether it is the death of a loved one, or some other trauma, can be triggers to us and bring back distress that can be very serious.
Monday is the tenth anniversary of the aircraft crash that killed my husband and sent me spiraling into the abyss of PTSD. One day before the first anniversary of his death, my next door neighbor sued me for $50,000 for his “emotional distress” because the plane crashed in his pasture and he needed money to make himself feel better. (He did not win a cent) I remember falling to the porch floor in a melted heap I was so shocked. I was already vulnerable because of the upcoming anniversary, and that was the cherry on top of my cake of pain.
For several years anniversaries were “important” to me…and I always mentally marked them…”oh, today is the day that Pop died” or “today is the day Patrick was arrested for murder” or “today is the anniversary of Morgan’s death,” but through the years there will be times pass that I don’t even “notice” now and the anniversary may actually come and go and I don’t even notice.
I hadn’t even realized that this coming Monday was THE anniversary until I got a telephone call from a TV reporter who wants to do a follow up on the anniversary of the crash. I knew this was the tenth year this month, but hadn’t really thought about the day of the week since I’ve been quite busy lately.
Looking back now I know that there are “dates” that significant things happened to me, some extremely painful, others joyful, but specific dates no longer trigger me emotionally in the way that they once did, and I take that as a positive sign of healing. Letting go of the significance of a specific date attached to a past trauma has helped me to
In 2007 I went to a trauma therapist who specialized in EMDR therapy, or “rapid eye movement” therapy to take the images of our trauma and disconnect them from the emotional pain that they engender when we think about them. I was more than a bit skeptical of the therapy working just by moving my eyes rapidly from side to side, following a pointer, as I thought about the painful experience, feeling the lump in my throat or my gut as I relived those painful events.
EMDR is very effective for this. The only way I can explain it is by using a movie experience as an example. Back when “Jaws” was the greatest horror film with all the special effects, my husband and I went to see it. I listened to the “heart beat”music and was drawn into the terror of the film, really feeling like I was in danger. Then in one underwater scene a head suddenly fell out of a sunken boat and everyone in the audience SCREAMED!!! I FROZE! About the time (maybe 10 seconds) when everyone else quit screaming, I stood up and screamed “OH, SHIAT!!!!” at the top of my lungs in the silent theater.
While at the time I was very emotionally involved with the film, now I can still remember that scene, but there is no emotion attached to it. That is the way with the aircraft crash now since the EMDR therapy. I can “see” the scenes in my mind’s eye, but it is like the scenes of that movie so long ago, it doesn’t elicit the emotional response and the lump in the pit of my stomach or in my thoat.
Stress is part of life and without any stress we wouldn’t do very well, but extreme or continual stress is a very negative thing for both our minds and our bodies.
If anniversaries of traumatic events still bother you emotionally, I strongly suggest that you see if you can find an EMDR therapist to see if you can let go of some of these triggers. Decreasing our stresses is very important for our healing. Whether the stress is anger, rage, shame, or any other emotional trigger you are hanging on to, it doesn’t matter what it is, it isn’t good for us.