“The human inquiry into the mysteries of life and the nature of the soul is acute during bereavement. When a loved one dies, we have no choice but to face up to nearly imponderable questions, the kind of questions I mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. Most of us open ourselves up to the questions death demands of us. We don’t necessarily do this by choice, mind you. Death does not ask permission. Although we may accept death’s invitation with trepidation, many of us find that the experience is not as frightening as we anticipated. many of us discover, in fact, that we have found something quite profound hidden in the experience.”
“The longest bereavement study that I know of spanned a remarkable thirty-five years. Some things stay constant, the study showed, but many aspects of bereavement fade only gradually, after many years have passed. In the first few years after a loss, for example, most bereaved people frequently reminisce about the lost loved one. We find ourselves indulging in reflection, replaying old memories. We do this at least several times a week. Fifteen years later, these kinds of reflective thoughts and memories happen less frequently, but they are not completely absent.
“Anniversary reactions . . . reveal the same gently sloping pattern. An ‘anniversary reaction’ occurs anytime a bereaved person experiences a dramatic increase in sadness or loneliness on the anniversary of an important date related to the loss: the lost loved one’s birthday, the first holiday after the death, and, of course, the date of the loved one’s death. For most people, anniversary reactions last a few hours and not much longer. The duration does not seem to change much over time. What does change, though, is the frequency of these reactions.
“Despite the durability of grief, bereaved people often worry that they will forget, that they will lose track of their memories, even years after a loved one’s death. This is an especially thorny issue for bereaved parents. Once a parent, always a parent; there is no switch to turn that off. When a child dies, parents never allow the memory to drift too far away.
“I asked Karen Everly about this. I asked her if she could sum up what bereavement felt like years after the death of her daughter. She looked thoughtful. Her words apply, I think, to anyone who has ever mourned a loved one:
‘It’s a bit like a fading light. It grows dim but it never goes out, never, not completely anyway. I find that enormously reassuring. I used to worry that someday the light would disappear–that I would forget, and then I would really have lost Claire. I know, now, that doesn’t happen. It can’t. There is always a little flicker there. It is a bit like the small glowing embers you see after a fire dies down. I carry that around with me, that little ember, and if I need to, if I want to have Claire next to me, I blow on it, ever so gently, and it glows bright again.’