My younger brother had a birthday this past Tuesday: the first family birthday after our mom's passing.. I didn't think too much of it (I texted him on the day; we had dinner plans for the day after) until we met up on Wednesday, when he shared that he was feeling sad and was particularly missing Mom. Because it was his birthday and he was remembering where he came from. And that person is no longer here.
Suddenly the coping mechanism of pouring yourself into work, or a new project, or an activity, disappears. You're snapped out of your bubble of concentration unawares, and it takes you especially by surprise because the event that triggers the memory, the reality -- in this case, a birthday -- is something that's always been there, whose date never changes.
In another case, something seemingly routine and uneventful will be a trigger. For me, it was the first Sunday back at church after the funeral. Having been in a haze of shock and logistics and surrounded by family for a week, I thought it would be okay, that I probably needed some 'off' time (my mom never went to church with me). So I drove to church, first for a meeting, then the service. I watched people come and go, say hi and bye, shake hands, and hardly anyone knew that I was going through the hardest time of my life, the greatest loss of my life. It was just another Sunday. I felt so small. And so sad. And so alone. There, in that big, holy sanctuary. Under the big rose window. With the big projection screen. And the worship band rockin' out. I felt like a ghost. Luckily a good friend found me and came and put her arm around me. And I buried myself in her shoulder.
I'm glad that it'd happened at church: a safe place where I have friends who will find me and encircle me and pray for me and protect me. I steeled myself for that same feeling to rush back the following Monday: first day of work after the funeral. Surprisingly, it didn't come. I was relieved. But that didn't mean that the feeling wouldn't come at all. It did, eventually, either because I was thinking of her, or someone said something. But I never knew what or when. The feeling just kinda snuck up. And still sneaks up.
The books and therapists say that the first year is the hardest for all the firsts contained therein. First birthday without mom. Soon, it'll be the first holiday season without her. And then her own birthday in early December.
How do you deal with this but to share your feelings with those who care, reach out for their support, be kind to yourself and allow the time and space needed to reel back a bit, hurt a bit, maybe cry a bit. It's all that I can do.