What President-Elect Biden’s Empty Schedule On December 18th Reminds Us About Death Anniversaries
My stomach starts hurting on that first week in January. The closer I get to January 10th, the day of my mom’s death, the more my mind starts meeting my body. I’m suddenly in 2003 again. I’m suddenly reliving life as a 10-year-old again. I’m suddenly doing it while also being 14, 21, or this upcoming year, 28.
On December 17th, President-Elect Joe Biden’s team shared that he would have no public events on his schedule on December 18th — the 48th death anniversary of his wife Neilia and his daughter Naomi.
I could understand why. No matter the expectation from those who haven’t lost someone that “you should be over it by now,” time serves a different purpose. It doesn’t add distance from the pain. It doesn’t add space between you and the day. It brings you closer. It offers opportunity to grieve in an intentional way that most years we don’t make time for otherwise, not because grief isn’t there, but because keeping up with life is hard enough.
President-Elect Biden’s decision to empty his schedule of public events was calculated. A death anniversary demands energy, time, and mental capacity. It’s a marathon you can’t stop running even when you physically try to. Sitting down still leaves your mind in full sprint. The next day it’s as hard because the emotional hangover lingers and your body is tired and your mind is having to make its peace again that those you mourn are still not around.
I wish yearly that somehow my offering to grief for a full 24-hours would lead to drastic change or at least a visit from my mom. Instead it brings me closer to myself and to the work I’m committed to. It reminds me what my life is in honor of and it reframes how my understanding of empathy was hard earned but never wasted. It reminds me that no one gives you a handbook on things you do after someone dies, so it’s okay that you’re figuring it out as you go.
President-Elect Biden is bringing the toll of grief into the national discourse and by doing so is giving others permission to do the same. A kid who struggles with the loss of his parents may tell his legal guardian that school is hard for them on a hard grief day the way it is for the future President. A boyfriend can now use today’s news story or viral tweet about the President’s grief to help his partner understand what he meant when he said that on hard grief days you have little to give because all your energy goes into living and remembering, simultaneously.
I’ve been thinking about the President-Elect’s win in the context of grief for weeks now. His decision to continue to honor his personal journey with grief is already making a difference. I’ve seen grief talked about more on Twitter and the news than I have in my entire life. And yet, I honor his decision not as a spectator who is thankful for the spotlight he gives grief (even though I am), but as a fellow member of this army of grievers.
I know admitting that a death anniversary is hard after years since the first one is complicated. There are moments when you join everyone else in wishing “you should be over it by now.” But unlike everyone else, you realize running away from it faster doesn’t get you far, it just makes you even more tired. Instead you choose to find the pockets of solace that work for that given year.
I read this morning that President-Elect Biden went to his church.
I hope for him what I hope for myself in January and what I hope for anyone who has live through hard grief days, that he gets the chance to be as present as he needs to be for it. That he’s reminded he’s doing the best he can with his grief, today and always.
I write about mental health, grief, and life’s every day challenges on vivnunez.com.
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