June 3, 2015 was the seventh anniversary of my husband Vic’s death. I planned a day with an empty calendar. I needed time to check in with myself and see where I stand. Am I pushing grief or anything else under? Do I need to turn my attention to something neglected or forgotten?
I lit a candle near Vic’s photo soon after midnight, the time he died, and sat in silent meditation. The flame reminded me of the holy atmosphere surrounding Vic and all of us who sat with him seven years ago.
In the morning, I picked purple Lupines in my fields on the way to the cairn in the woods where Vic’s ashes are buried. Lupines are a constant in my yearly rituals of remembrance. They bloomed with wild enthusiasm on the day Vic died, holding joy and beauty when I could not.
In the forest near Vic’s favorite red oak tree, I laid Lupines on the cairn my sons and I built over Vic’s ashes. I arranged the flowers with an image of my book cover and wrapped the stems with the blue IPPY gold medal sash. My book Leaning into Love had received the award the week before. It represented the fulfillment of a promise I’d made to Vic to find a way to thrive without him.
I recited the poem Vic and I read at our wedding in May 1968. Here are the lines I find most meaningful.
I need love more than ever now…I need your love,
I need love more than hope or money, wisdom or a drink
Because slow negative death withers the world—and only yes
can turn the tide
Because love has your face and body…and your hands are tender
and your mouth is sweet—and God has made no other eyes like yours.
~Walter Benton, This Is My Beloved
I sang “Let It Be,” the Beatles song I heard in a dream after Vic’s death.
I ended by reading a poem Vic and I read to each other on our 39th Wedding Anniversary. He had been through nearly a year of cancer treatment in May 2007 and requested an anniversary party knowing there might not be another year.
There was a 40th Wedding Anniversary, less than two weeks before his death. He listened with tears as I held his hand and read the poem twice, once for me and once for him. Here’s an excerpt:
… When men and women come together,
How much they have to abandon.
…they have to abandon their longing for the perfect.
The inner nest not made by instinct
Will never be quite round
And each has to enter the nest
Made by the other imperfect bird.
~Robert Bly, “Listening to the Koln Concert”
I feel a shift and softening since last year. Of course, I don’t know what the eighth season will bring, but I hope for another quiet day when the Lupines bloom next year. I hope for another bouquet for Vic.
How do you mark the death anniversary of someone you love? Do your rituals change over time? Does there come a time when you let them go and feel they’re no longer helpful? For related posts about creating ritual, see How to Create a Grief Ritual. For more ideas about creating ritual, I suggest Why Rituals Help Us Mourn…and Heal by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. or my TEDx talk which focuses on the healing power of personal ritual: “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss.