Anniversaries, deathversaries, special occasions and annual holidays are all examples of events that can evoke memories of a loved one who has died. Such memories are also accompanied by a range of emotions that are unique to you.
Just as each bereavement is individual, so too are your feelings induced by such events. For some people, anniversaries can evoke joy and happy memories, whilst for others they can create feelings of sadness, regret, guilt, and anger.
Your experience of anniversaries may also vary from year to year. Time is not a deciding factor in terms of how you feel when those special days roll in. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since your loved one died, your grief may still spike at various times of the year that hold meaning for you.
How can I make it easy?
- Acceptance is key. You’re grieving, so cut yourself some slack and accept that there are some occasions which will be difficult for you.
- Find ways to manage the day. Spend some, well in advance, thinking about what will best suit your needs and make a flexible plan. Things can change when the actual day arrives and you may find you feel differently to how you expected. You may also want to talk this through with those around you who share your loss. Bear in mind, that their needs may be different from yours.
- Participating in a commemorative activity can help. Some people find it comforting to take part in religious and cultural rituals, which help people to remember your loved one, as well as celebrate them. Others find they prefer something more personal and private.
- Do nothing. Some people prefer to simply go about their day as usual. This is perfectly okay.
- Share dates if you can. It can also be helpful if friends, colleagues, school teachers, etc. can make a note of the days that are important to you and your children so they can reach out with support at those times.
- Eliminate extra stressors. Do your best to create space for yourself and not add any additional stress as best you can. It may not be the best time to move house, or change jobs.
- Talk about it. Plan in plenty of time with supportive friends and family. If you see a coach or therapist, arrange to see him or her around this time.
To mark the occasion or not?
Avoidance is a strategy that some people apply by removing themselves from the people and places which trigger sad thoughts and feelings. That’s okay – it’s really up to you. You may feel that it’s important to mark the occasion in some special way and to honour the person who has died. There is no right or wrong answer. The important thing is that you are true to what you need.
Grief is individual and when anniversaries and special days are approaching everyone will have different feelings about them and ways in which they want to spend the day.
“What we have learnt from speaking to so many families, is it can be really helpful to be mindful of the days and help children to make a conscious decision of how to manage the day in a way that feels okay for them and you.” Cruse Bereavement, UK.
It’s really important to remember that it is completely normal for everyone to feel differently. Choosing to do something, or not to do something, does not mean that your love and grief are any more or less than anyone else’s.
Based on some of things my clients and community have shared with me in the past, here are 15 ideas should you choose to mark the occasion.
- Set aside a special place inside or outside your home on that day in which to remember your loved one. You could light a candle, put a photograph up, or place items that remind you of the day or them. You and / or your family members can be invited to spend time sitting in this special place.
- Visit a place that holds meaning for the both of you on that special day. It doesn’t need to be a far flung destination. Perhaps a local restaurant or a favourite place you liked to walk.
- Write a card or letter. Whether that be in your journal, or you could even make a card if you’re feeling creative. You can take this to their final resting place, read aloud, or just keep it for yourself.
- Ask family members or friends to write special messages or capture special memories and send them to you. You could keep them in a scrapbook, tie labels to a tree, or stick them to a chalkboard / wall.
- Listen to their favourite music. You can put together a playlist or dust off some old vinyl to play at home. You might even feel brave enough to ask your favourite radio show to play a dedication.
- Start a memory box, scrapbook in which to keep things that remind you of the person. You can purchase a memory box, or make your own and decorate it. Take this a step at a time. There is no need to pull out all of the photographs and items in one go as this can feel a little overwhelming for some people.
- Watch a movie that reminds you of your loved one. You can make this a family occasion with popcorn and snacks, or just curl up under a blanket on your own.
- Create a digital memory board or post something on social media about your loved one or memories of that special day. You can also ask friends and family to share their photographs and create an online album.
- Cook their favourite meal, bake a cake, or order their favourite takeaway. You might want to share this with family and friends, or just have some quiet time to yourself.
- Spend time with others who would also like to remember the person on that day; this can be physically together where possible, but it can also be through video calls, where you can all see each other and have time to talk and support one another.
- Treat yourself with something that you feel connects you with the person who died. It may be their birthday, so spend the money you would have spent on something for them on something that feels special and will connect and remind you of them.
- Make a donation to a charity that holds special meaning for you and your loved one.
- Plant a memorial tree or flower in honour of their memory. It doesn’t have to be grand and expensive. Planting their favourite flower in your garden will provide a special and lasting memory.
- Make or purchase a commemorative piece that can have a special place in your home all year round. You might like to check out the remembrance frames over in my shop.
- Release balloons – the eco-friendly kind. This is a lovely activity if you have children. You can each write a message and attach it to a balloon before releasing it. An alternative for the autumn / winter months could be to use Chinese lanterns instead. Remember to follow the health and safety guidelines for these.
When do I need further support?
Just because an anniversary triggers your grief, it doesn’t mean that the intense emotion will have a lasting effect. For others, it might. Knowing that you will come through this and that you will adjust to your grief can make it feel less scary.
It’s never too late to start looking for support either. I’ve worked with clients years and even decades after their loss.
There are many ways to approach grief from holistic therapy to medication and talking therapy. Its’ about finding what works best for you – and you may need more than one type of support for different areas of your grief. I suggest looking for a coach, therapist or counsellor you feel comfortable with and trust. With a skilled professional, some courage, and some work, the next anniversary could feel a lot easier. I’m here to help.