The Boston Marathon finish line.

Credit: AP

On Boston's Fourth 'Grief Anniversary,' We Return To The Start Line

April 16, 2017

Four years — four years today when twin bombs blew up downtown Boston. There’s no escaping the annual date, no avoiding reliving the loss. Each year as the date approaches we wait on the platform for the “anniversary train.” Author Christina Rasmussen, who specializes in writing about grief and loss, says “Anniversaries of loss feel like a big train approaching the platform,” which she says, “takes forever to get to the destination of tomorrow.”  Especially hard in that first anniversary. We keep boarding the train, she says, because society, protocol make us feel we are “supposed to get on it.” But how else to bear the sadness?

An anniversary of this magnitude needs always to be acknowledged. But each year after brings a familiar dilemma — determining the right ritual for this moment — to honor the emotional evolution of Boston’s victims and survivors.  And of a city forever shaped by this singular tragedy.  Our four-year journey from deep pain and agony to determined resilience, to rebuilding, and now to today’s respectful remembering calls for balancing the moments of silence for the dead with tributes for the living.

Notably, gifts for the fourth wedding anniversary underscore endurance and strength. In her book “The Meaning of Wedding Anniversaries,” author Gretchen Scobles explains that flowers and fruits are traditional gifts, because “while flowers refresh our souls, fruits nourish our bodies.” Four years out and the people most affected need the official observances to refresh and nourish their spirits. Probably more than in previous years, the first account stories of victims’ private suffering have been detailed in very public book narratives and in movies on the big screen. We’re just now hearing from some who had not talked about their experiences before, many who have wounds not visible. And we’ve heard from victims who’ve spoken about feeling left out of the city’s official commemorations. They didn’t lose limbs, but are still struggling with the aftermath like those who did.

The ancient Greeks believed the blue topaz associated with the fourth wedding anniversary increased strength. Another source says gifting blue topaz promotes harmony and can be especially helpful in healing hurt feelings. Blue topaz is just the right gift for this marathon anniversary, which will, for the first time, honor male and female handcycle winners. The agreement came after weeks of tense conversations between the Boston Athletic Association and the handcyclists, and in the days just before today’s 121st running of the race. Now up to 60 runners — bombing victims and veterans who lost their legs — can use handcycles and will be honored with a wreath ceremony like all other marathon winners.

Rasmussen says grief anniversaries lead to “second firsts” — that honor the loss, but represent an opportunity to begin again. On this day, we start the race again, and once again mark our communal effort to stay the course in our healing process.


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