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8 Tips for Creating a Trauma Anniversary Ritual

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Due to my varied traumatic past, I often have anniversaries of traumatic events throughout the year. Some pass by without much notice and others hit me like a bag of bricks and I lose days of normalcy. Every time an anniversary comes up, I struggle to figure out how I will spend the day and what I will do to mark the day. How will I cope? What will the memories bring up?

In 2010 on a warm day in late September, I entered an attorney’s office with my good friend by my side and I signed away my parental rights to my daughter. Just like that. All I had hoped and dreamed for gone in an instant. With just a stroke of a pen. I was no longer a mother to my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She now had new women to call Mom.

I got too sick to care for her and no matter what I did I could not get well enough to bring her home to live with me. I tried for a year and a half to no avail. I was given a choice to bring her home or place her for adoption. (Unfortunately, no other choices were given.) I was stuck. I could not bring her home and she needed a permanent solution and adoption was it.

I think of her daily and think about all she and I are missing. All the time we could be spending together. The milestones, the talking back, the hugs, and the triumphs. I am missing all of it. These are times I will never get back even if we reunite when she is older. These moments are loss forever. I am forever broken and she will forever have a hole that cannot be filled.

I see her once a year and she seems happy and her moms are taking very good care of her. I just miss her so much, once a year supervised is not enough.

So, every late September I enter a depression. The day I signed those papers forever changed me. I will never be the same. The 24 hours of this day go by slowly. My therapist recommends I do something on this day to help cope. My adoption support group recommends I do a ritual I can repeat every year to mark the day.

Sometimes I just want to sleep it away, but that does not work either. After all these years, I still have not developed a ritual in the traditional since. No burning candles, going to a memorable place, or releasing bird seed or balloons. I do not even take a trip to get away and mourn.

What I do is spend the day with friends. I line up a breakfast, lunch, and dinner date. I go out with my friends and bring photos of my daughter. Her baby books all the way up to present day and then I just reminisce. I have a lot of funny stories about my daughter from the first few years and my friends seem open to hearing them. Sometimes I cry and other times I laugh and sometimes I do both. Sometimes they cry with me.

The other action I take is to make sure everyone knows it is an anniversary for me. I want everyone to know to care for me that day and to stay tuned to provide support. I even post on Facebook what I am going through and how I feel.

As you approach an anniversary you may want to consider setting a ritual. Here are some things to consider:

1. Make it about you and what you need to feel connected and better.

2. Consider what you can tolerate without falling apart and doing more harm than good.

3. Make it easy to repeat year to year.

4. Write down your ritual so you can remember from year to year.

5. Engage others if that makes since for you, they can also help you plan if you want help.

6. Tweak your ritual as you mature and circumstances around the event evolve.

7. Your ritual can be a secret that you keep to yourself.

8. Anniversaries are not always a finite period, so you may have to do a ritual over a period of time.

Make the ritual your own. Even if you think you can bypass the day without any acknowledgement, it will still creep up on you. Your body remembers and will remind you in one way or another. So, the best you can do is plan for the event and stand ready to respond.

I miss my daughter more than words can express, but it is a joy to take time out to remember her and all her childhood antics. I wish the best on your anniversaries and that your rituals are meaningful and bring you peace.

Stay Mighty Strong!

Getty image by Atlas Studio

Originally published: October 8, 2021
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