The reason the twelve months following a loved one’s death is called “the year of firsts” is obvious, but how to get through those months and feel equipped to manage the anniversary of the loss isn’t always so clear. Grief is such a complicated experience, partially because it never truly resolves itself. Rather, it changes over time to resemble different paths—some difficult and others not so difficult.
Anticipating (or being blindsided by) the anniversary of a meaningful loss can leave us unsure of how to proceed. Just like other “stages” of grief, this time will likely look immensely different for each person—and that is okay. No one gets to decide what is the right way or wrong way to approach the anniversary of a loved one’s death; only the person experiencing it in their unique way gets to do this.
As we navigate life, we will all be faced with losses of those we love and admire. Here are some reminders to keep handy as these challenging dates roll by:
Media portrayals of grief can be both validating and vexing. Say, for instance, you would prefer to spend time by yourself as an anniversary approaches, but everything and everyone around you suggests you should participate in a memorial ceremony on that day, instead. What works for some does not necessarily work for others and it is our job to trust our guts when deciding the appropriate way to manage our grief.
Some people may prefer to spend time alone, with close friends, with family, at a movie theatre, at the park, curled up in bed, at a comedy show or at the spa. As long as you’re not harming yourself or someone else, there is no wrong way to spend this day. Trust yourself to know what is right for you and ask that those around you respect your wishes.
Maybe your initial plans to spend the day visiting your loved one’s grave site or a mutually meaningful local spot sounded like just the ticket a week ago, but as the day approaches you realize you would much rather have an intimate dinner at home with a few close confidantes. Be flexible with yourself and do not judge if and when your needs change.
Have supports on stand-by.
If you are suspecting the anniversary of your loved one’s passing might be difficult, let someone you trust know. Even if you don’t end up giving them a call or asking them to drop by and talk, knowing that you have the option, if you need it, can be very comforting.
Having a date set up with your partner or a good friend for the next day (or a few days after) can also give you the time and space you need to reflect on how the anniversary affected you, and can offer the opportunity to process it with someone. If you have a counselor in your support system, consider scheduling an appointment before and after this time.
Decide for yourself what is “meaningful.”
Your personal connection with the person who has passed is unique. The ways you remember them, the things you love about them, the specific memories that make you laugh and ache—they all are experienced through your eyes. This means that whatever meaningful activity you would like to participate in as this anniversary approaches is valuable. Maybe it’s spending time in a place of worship, or cooking their favorite meal to enjoy with family, or visiting a park or monument of significance, or drinking a glass of their favorite lager while reading their favorite poem and reminiscing about the good times (my personal favorite). You get to decide what is a personally “meaningful” way to experience this day.
Give yourself permission.
There is no way to be 100 percent sure how this day will hit you. It might pass without a thought, it might feel devastating, or anything in between. The important thing to remember is that however you feel is valid. Give yourself permission to feel sad, indifferent, angry, lethargic, motivated, sullen or relieved. Walk into the next day without judgment on how you handled the day before. You can do this.
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