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Where Will The Marathon Bombing's Fifth Anniversary Fall In The Healing Journey?

Boston Marathon bombing responder Carlos Arredondo holds a "Boston Strong" flag as he and his wife, Melida, left, cheer runners near the finish line at the 121st Boston Marathon on Monday, April 17, 2017, in Boston.
Elise Amendola/AP

It happened again a couple of weeks ago. While searching for information in my electronic address book, I stumbled across the name of someone who had passed away. Someone long gone, but whose contact information — the office and cell phone numbers, email addresses, even detailed notes listing special shared occasions, spouse and children — still remain in my address file.

It’s not that I don’t know they’re gone. I sent the flowers, attended the funeral or memorial service, wrote the note to the family — all the requisite rituals of death. Rituals that are supposed to make the loss real to make acceptance complete. And yet here it is, years later in some instances, and I still haven’t been able to click the delete button. Accidentally stumbling across these memories is hard enough, but it’s nothing like bracing for a grief anniversary.

There’s no unintentional tripping over a painful memory. No way to erase the day and time fixed by horrible circumstance. I thought about that as April 15 approached again this year. Five years since those twin bombs exploded in downtown Boston. I’ve been reflecting on the years leading up to this significant commemoration.

That first anniversary, a year after the tragedy, our communal mourning focused on sweeping up the shattered pieces of the burned brick and mortar and our broken hearts. The following year, an emotional roller coaster, as we plunged into a seemingly unending series of memorial services, and the rehabilitation struggles of survivors trying to take back their lives. Worse, in a vulgar collision of timing, this second anniversary happened days before the trial of now-convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The intersection of remembrance and acceptance were the hallmarks of year three. Like Janus, the Roman god of transitions, who looks backward and forward, observances began to focus more on hope than loss. But last year, on the fourth anniversary, whiplash. Back to where we began grappling with what grief experts call the “second first.” Amplified by fresh hurts shared by survivors who felt their wounds and suffering were not fully recognized. And now, today, as new runners trace the historic route for the 122nd time, I wonder where the fifth year anniversary falls in the healing journey?

Not sure I completely buy it, but numerologists believe that the number five represents a constant need for change, or the freedom to pursue joy. Either way, that could mean it’s time to reframe how we commemorate the anniversary. Perhaps it is fitting that the planned official memorial to the bombing victims was not completed in time for this year’s race. When the bronze, granite and glass sculpture marking the Boylston Street bombing site is finally unveiled, maybe we’ll be better able to honor the memory of our dead, pay tribute to the living, and find peace.

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