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What's the Deal With the Dash

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

There is a poem that was often read at the funerals I directed. This poem was titled, The Dash. The poem is about the dates that are engraved in the granite of the headstones that mark the burial spaces in cemeteries. One date is the birthdate of the individual, the other date is the death date. Between these two dates is a line, a dash. This dash represents the years between birth and death. The dash is the life. For the dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth. (The Dash By Linda Ellis, Copyright 2020 Inspire Kindness,

On a keyboard it is in the upper right quadrant. You can usually reach it with your right ring finger, but my index finger works best. The dash (-), such a tiny little line that means so much when it is put between dates on a tombstone. This dash represents birthdays, anniversaries and vacations. It signifies graduations, weddings and funerals. This dash means a life was lived and memories were made. This dash is precious to everyone that has experienced the death of a loved one.

This dash represents all the firsts that surviving spouses endure without their loved ones by their sides. The first birthday after the death, the first anniversary after the death. The vacation that was being planned that will now be canceled. The graduations, weddings and funerals that will now be attended alone. Those first holidays are agonizing. Brave faces are worn while the spirit crumbles inside. The first time anything is faced without our loved ones by our sides is troublesome if not terrifying.

For some the anticipation of the event is actually harder to manage than the actual event. When we anticipate something, our imagination is in control. We make up conversations, scenes, scenarios, reactions and timeframes. The imagination takes control and before we know it the whole event has taken on a life of its own. The event has been lived before we have even experienced it. We do this all the time in daily life, however, during grief, it can get messy and debilitating.

How can we face these firsts with grace and courage? There are a couple of things that we can do that may prove to be of benefit. The first thing is to realize that there is tension and anxiety. Next, have a plan in place. Ask ourselves, Can I leave the event if it gets too uncomfortable? How can I make this anniversary or birthday special? Can I celebrate in my own way? Then, realize that our imaginations work overtime. Instead of living in the “what if” moments, try to live the actual moments and see what happens. Finally, after the event, reflect on the what happened. What was positive? What was negative?

Life without our loved ones is hard. The adjustments are difficult and agonizing. We learn to accommodate and adapt. But, those special holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are extremely painful. They are experienced alone. Does it get easier? For some, yes, for others, no.

Don’t be surprised if one year is manageable, but the next year is rough. It happens that way.

As we learn to adjust and adapt, we become more resilient. We become courageous as we face the firsts alone. Our own dash is being created as we learn to live with Grief In Life.


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