Wake Me Up When September Ends

Sep 1, 2020

Debbie Vallandingham, LMSW-ACSW, Bereavement Manager

Music can capture the soul of a moment. Filled with emotion, the words and notes strike us in our hearts and allow us to share in the joy or sorrow of the singer and songwriter. It can help remind us of the wonders of wintertime, the miracles of spring, the fun of summer, and the peace of fall. But as we leave summer, some music can call more directly to those mourning. It can trigger deeper emotions or remind us of important anniversaries. One such song is “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” by Green Day.

Memories of a Loss

“Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends”

This song was released on August 31, 2005 and made it to number six on the Billboard Hot 100.  It was later dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and has been considered a dedication to the victims of the September 11 attacks.  But what is it about this song that makes it a fitting memorial to grieving families?

“Here comes the rain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are”

These lyrics were written by the band’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong.  When he was ten years old, Armstrong lost his father to esophageal cancer on September 1, 1982.  The song was released the day before the 23rd anniversary of his father’s death.  Writing and performing the song was difficult for Armstrong, but he considered it “therapeutic, because it deals with the passing of someone that you love.”

Armstrong was honoring his father on the anniversary of the loss.  Anniversaries are a special type of grief trigger.

Approaching Anniversary Dates

“Ring out the bells again
Like we did when spring began
Wake me up when September ends”

When anniversaries approach, many of us can empathize with this song.  We want to just sleep though that date and often say “wake me when it’s over.”  It is normal to feel anticipation and dread.  In fact, in his song, Armstrong is talking about the experience of knowing the date is coming.  He shares with us how difficult the month of September is for him, having lost his father as a young boy.  At the time he wrote this song, many years had passed since his loss.  Yet he still felt the dread, anticipation, and sadness of losing someone he loved.

Yes, this is normal.  What we need to keep in mind is that grief changes.  It will not be the same pain you felt the day your loved one died or even the sadness of the first anniversary. Grief changes just like we do.

So, how do we manage these anniversaries?  Let’s start by agreeing there is no single “correct way” to handle your feelings.  You may want to keep busy or you may feel like being alone.  There is no right and wrong.  Remember that it’s okay to have your feelings and working through them is part of the process.

But one of the best ways to lessen the dread is to make a plan.  Even though we wish we could sleep though these days, you can’t.  You’re going to think about it and probably stress about it.  So, we make a plan to mitigate the feelings of stress and anxiety.

A plan gives you some control.  You know what’s coming.  You can look at ways to respond as you will have a playbook with tools to help you conquer your feelings of dread.  Here are a few suggestions, but you can personalize your plan to include things that feel right to you and help you honor your loved one.

  • Visiting your loved one’s grave or final resting place.
  • Lighting a candle for them.
  • Writing them a letter and telling them how you feel.
  • Making their favorite dinner or getting takeout from their favorite restaurant.
  • Watching their favorite television shows or movies.
  • Listening to their favorite music.

Implementing a plan allows us to remember our loss and celebrate our never-ending love for that person.  It reaffirms that we will “never forget what we have lost” and that we grow through our pain, “becoming who we are.”

“As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends.”

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