Today marks the two-year anniversary of my husband’s death. In the last few days, friends and colleagues who knew the day was coming around again, have reached out to offer some support. It’s comforting to know that people remember him and are speaking his name. I want him to be remembered. I recently spoke with Dr Sarah Madigan on a podcast for Wellbeing Radio about traumatic loss. Both of us have had the experience of people avoiding discussing our losses with us, or not acknowledging it at all. I don’t pretend to know what every person who is grieving wants. I just know that those I have spoken to do want to speak about the person they have loved, lost and continue to love in death. If they don’t want to speak about it, I guess they can tell you that. However, giving them the opportunity to do so can be a true gift.
The death anniversary is in many ways for me just another day. That’s not to minimise its significance as a marker of time or how devastating it can feel all over again on these days. What I mean, is that the loss is present for myself, my children and wider family every day. Anniversaries can sometimes just make the emotions more acute. Since he died, we have had multiple family birthdays, two Christmases, sporting and academic successes. There have been nursery days, school days and quarantine days. There have days with tears and days with joy. His loss is present in all the days he is not here to witness his families’ growth and development. The weight of what he has missed and continues to miss can feel crushing.
In the years before his death, my husband spoke of getting a tattoo. He was a welder and worked with people who loved inking their body. He was adamant it would be a ‘full-sleeve’. I asked him what meaning it would have for him. He told me he wanted a tattoo which signified peace; a dove of peace and the peace sign incorporated. That made me smile. A 60’s peace sign, also symbolic of the campaign for nuclear disarmament. I had never thought of him as a hippie. I’ve thought about these conversations in the 24 months since he left us, I wish I had encouraged him to get it done, if it would have made him happy. I wish he had known the joy of being inked and it meaning something to him. Now, I see meaning in it for me. Matty was a gentle and kind person. He had an inner peace and calm about him. He very rarely got upset about things and he hated conflict. The symbols he wanted in his tattoo are reflective of who he was intrinsically as a person. A peace seeker and a pacifist. Looking at the world right now, I believe we need more people like him.
There is learning in this personal anecdote too. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to. Their validation of your choices is not necessary. Your autonomy is sacred. Passing your agency to others will likely just increase your doubt and fears, making it more likely that you’ll cast your inner desires aside in favour of safety and security. But what good is security when it means you aren’t following the path you truly want to. Instead, perhaps try to tune in to your why, acknowledging you feel the fear, but are doing it anyway. The value in this is immeasurable. What it means is that you won’t wake up in your future and say to yourself “I wish…”.
Matty’s death has taught me so many things about life. Principally, that it can be far shorter than any of us predict. However, reflecting this week has highlighted to me that perhaps the most important lesson has been this. Finding peace and acceptance of loss is crucial. It doesn’t mean you love them any less and it doesn’t mean you are leaving them behind. For those of you who have experienced your own loss, try to consider who your person was at their core and what they might have wanted for you.
Our family have spent his anniversary day in peace, remembering and honouring him, as peace is what he would have wanted for us.