The First Anniversary of a Life-Changing Day

Grief and Anniversary of Death by Kate Buster, Grief Support Volunteer

You’ve spent almost 12 months working through your grief and now, in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of your loved one’s death, you may find unwelcome emotions coming up. You may be anxious or even depressed about how to manage that day.

Some prefer to pass this anniversary quietly, perhaps going through old photos and remembering better times. Others may want to go to their place of worship or the cemetery. Or, you could plan a family gathering to honor your missing loved one by sharing stories and memories.

Ritual can be a healing part of grief, a way to honor missing loved ones in years to come. Rituals can range from simply lighting a candle to an annual family event or dinner at your loved one’s favorite restaurant. Involving family and friends in planning can help honor their loss as well.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to spend the day, and no right or wrong reaction to it. Listen to your heart. Make plans that feel like they’ll work for you. Remind yourself that you’ve made it this far and you’ll make it through this day, too. You may find anticipation is more stressful than the day itself.

While 12 months isn’t a magic number, anniversaries can be important milestones. It’s the ending of the first year of loss and you’ve somehow made it through all those sad “firsts” — the holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

You’re a survivor, moving into the second year after a significant loss. It may feel impossible that it’s been that long. Time has a strange way of dragging through heart-breaking hours and days, but flying through months.

Well-meaning friends and family may give you the message, either spoken or unspoken, that it’s time to “move on.” Without realizing it, you may even be putting this pressure on yourself. You might feel angry and abandoned.

Talking it through with trusted friends can be helpful. Or, you might try journaling to help work through these feelings.

At this time, you may remember important events, like when you first heard the diagnosis, going to the hospital, starting hospice or the last time you went out to dinner together. Remembering these events can be very painful, but can also bring healing.

This first anniversary of your loved one’s death is time to acknowledge your loss, but also give yourself credit for the progress and growth you’ve made. Seeing progress when you’re living it daily is difficult. Remember how you felt those first weeks? Can you see that the intensity of your pain has lessened?

Maybe the rough days are fewer. Have you begun to let some painful memories of illness and death fade, to be replaced by those of happier times? Are you better able to focus and operate in the world? Are you able to see the new skills you’ve learned and recognize how well you’ve managed this past year? This is all progress and growth.

This second year marks yet another new period in your life. For some, this anniversary may be a time for exploring possibilities. Would you like to renew any past interests, hobbies, or friendships you were unable to continue during your loved one’s illness? Or try something new entirely?

Grief may still be a strong factor and healing may feel very slow. Remember, we all grieve in our own way and in our own time. You have done the best you can, and you’ll continue to heal. Progress may be difficult to see, but it’s there. Be kind to yourself. Reach out to others. Give yourself credit for where you’ve been and where you are now, moving forward the best way you know how.