This past week we have been honouring and commemorating Julia. (And Mike. And Ed. And Don. Of course). Like we do every day. Of course. But particularly Julia this week. The first “deathiversary”. The first anniversary post mortem.
I don’t really know why the one-year anniversary feels like such a rite of passage. It’s not like anything changes. It’s just one more day. One additional day. One extra day.
And then another.
Nothing gets easier or lighter, not with the death of a child or husband for sure, at the one-year mark. Perhaps the death of a much-loved pet might feel lighter after a year, but not a deep, intricate human relationship.
My experience(s) so far is that it feels worse at the one year mark. Perhaps it is because we expect it to feel lighter, easier, and it doesn’t, that it then feels worse. I feel I have been through this cycle enough times by now to no longer be surprised at any of it. To no longer have expectations of anything. To feel okay with shockingly deep sadness. To feel thrilled with equally high peaks of gratitude and joy. Side by side, in the same moment.
“The date” though is a hard thing. All the days either side of it too. Full of difficult memories. The “what we were doings” crystal clear down to the last days, hours, minutes. All the memories deeply embedded in the body, in my cells.
The impossibly hard tasks of calling people, arranging for a space and visiting hours at the morgue, finding appropriate clothes for Julia’s body to be dressed/displayed in, finding a celebrant and confirming a slot at the crematorium for the ceremony, and communicating to people all over again with specifics of the ceremony that hammer that nail in a little bit further. The organising and paying for all of the services, writing a speech, somehow keeping tabs on who is coming and who isn’t, finding beds for guests, arranging pick-ups, having plans around the edges for those who have come from so far that additional time with them before and afterwards is also on the cards. The tasks are so hard, but somehow, it’s still just a case of “organising things” – a bit of project planning really. With the purpose, the impact, of the project not sinking in at all. (Thankfully).
Last week, on Tuesday 30th June, Megan, Ben and I spent some time commemorating Julia. I went for a 2+ hour walk up the Jura to a favourite spot, with views overlooking Lac Leman and the Mont Blanc. I got back in time to receive four bunches of roses from friends around the world – roses were Julia’s favourite flowers. Some of her school friends rocked up for a bit, then went off to a nearby park to have a picnic and tell stories of Julia.
The three of us went to Geneva to have some late lunch and swim in the lake at the Bains des Paquis, a favourite haunt of Julia’s in her last two or so years. (Ridiculously busy and not at all COVID-compliant. It was a shock after being in relatively spatial-distancing-compliant France for the last few months. On the tram there and back, Ben, Megan and I were pretty much the only ones wearing face masks. The rules there have finally changed as of today, with face masks being compulsory on public transport as of today).
We had some special moments on the 30th. On the 1st, Julia’s “official” date, I just couldn’t do the death stuff anymore. People sent messages for that day because that’s what it (also) says on her death certificate. But I just got on with some work, got my white-since-Mike-died roots covered up at the hair salon, and even enjoyed a piano lesson.
On Saturday 4th July, we had a few hours with friends and family in the garden, along with drinks and nibbles. More roses and flowers. Some friends showing up from Julia’s psychiatric unit. Such courage and love. These same friends had gone to Julia’s place of death on Tuesday 30th and laid flowers, candles, letters and other “offerings”, then sent me photos. Horrendous and touching. They live a good hour or more from here and aren’t yet driving, so parents were discretely involved to make this happen. Horrible and lovely. Ugh, all of it. The impact of losing a dear friend so profoundly marking even – especially – at that tender age.
I comfortably made my way through a bottle of Prosecco, which is okay. So be it. I think I managed to talk more or less coherently to most people who showed up, though others I will need to catch up on properly another time. It’s hard at these kinds of events even at the best of times to be a good hostess, let alone when it’s tough circumstances, tough dates, and we have all been isolating if not for COVID-19 reasons then for grief reasons.
Then on Sunday, my parents (who had come up from the Pyrennees for the occasion) joined me, Ben & Medjool for a gorgeous walk along part of the Jura ridge. An absolute favourite walk, and one I did last year with other family and friends in the immediate aftermath of Julia’s death. Together alone. Space for us to talk, not talk, reflect on the absurdity of it all.
I took up a small bin-liner of Julia’s funeral ceremony dried rose petals. Probably about 20 handfuls of them. Hundreds of red roses’ worth. We threw them up into the wind, high above the natural altitude for roses, and watched them fly off freely.
It was beautiful and awful. And somehow freeing.
Nothing has changed. She’s just been dead for one more day. But it was a day, a week, a year to mark.
Be free, sweet, feisty Julia.