That 'toughest time of the year' came, and went
It was once again that "time of year."
I knew the time was approaching because one day, as I was otherwise working happily out in the yard feeding the birds and filling the birdbath, I thought of my dear Baheej and burst into tears.
I was all by myself and the sadness just swept over me. This happens in long-term grief, but it's still always unexpected (by me). I usually get a grip within a few minutes.
It happens about this time every year. This time it was right in the middle of a two-month stretch, between Baheej's first stroke on June 22 to our wedding anniversary on Aug. 18. This also includes June 26, my brother Nic's death, Baheej's July 23 birthday, his death, his funeral Aug. 13 at St. George in Cicero, and burial on Aug. 16 in the Khleif family plot in New Hampshire. So this is a very intense time that comes to visit me every year like clockwork.
I know many who have their own "tough times" of the year. And readers have written to me about this.
Luckily for me, it is summertime and I was out in the yard and patio when the sadness struck me. I find the garden is uplifting. I must tend my tomatoes, herbs and flowers. That's a cheerful activity for me. A good and supportive environment for combating such sweeping feelings.
Because Aug. 11 marked the eighth year since Baheej's death, I am reminded that this lingering grief is not going to go away -- probably ever. So coping with it and managing it are vital.
I know I've mentioned this issue before, probably last year. It's unavoidable really. One of the main defenses I use is the advice I believe Baheej would give me at a time such as this. He would say he is "OK, doing well in the spirit world." He would say "Be strong; don't be too sad. Do something nice for yourself." He would say "Every day is a gift." He would smile that sweet and mischievous smile.
If you are experiencing recent grief, or long-term grief -- over a partner, parent, child, friend or other -- you need to muster up some defenses and techniques to manage these surprise attacks of grief. Especially at that "toughest time" of the year.
Your approach could be listening to favorite music, taking a nice drive, watching a pleasant movie. It could be playing with your dog or kitty, calling a friend, ordering delivery of a favorite meal or watering the tomatoes. You need to find something that works for you, something that helps change your mood and leads you to happier thoughts. This is sometimes the best we can do.
The point is: There seems to be no way of escaping long-term grief, at least for me. Learning how to cope with it helps. Unfortunately not many people understand long-term grief, so we are pretty much on our own.
But luckily not all grief is long term. It's always difficult but maybe it will not be forever for some. My good news is that it was easier to handle and cope with this year. That's a good sign. My dear Baheej would not approve of wallowing.
So, I think today I will order grilled octopus from Woodfire in West Dundee, the only restaurant in this area that makes it. And they do it perfectly. It's a favorite dish Baheej and I discovered and loved on a happy trip to Greece. We got off the boat at an island outside Athens harbor and ate fresh grilled octopus right on the wharf in a cozy outside cafe. Now there's a cheerful memory.
• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at email@example.com or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.