Immediately following the death of a loved one family and friends usually rally around providing support and distraction. However, following the funeral all but those closest to the deceased gradually get back to their own lives, checking in less often, providing less help and support. This is perfectly normal and provides an opportunity for those left grieving to find new purpose. Grief anniversaries may only be remembered by a select few and present a difficult time for close relatives and friends of the person that has died, particularly as they may be more alone than at the time of dealing with the death and funeral.
What is a Grief Anniversary?
Following the death of a person, those left grieving will have specific days that are harder than others. A grief anniversary is any day that specifically recalls the person that has died; such days would include the anniversary of their death, the persons birthday, and other days that hold special memories such as Christmas or a wedding anniversary.
Immediately following a death, dealing with the feelings of grief can be overwhelming every day. As time passes, and coping strategies are learned, these feelings become easier for most people. However, in the days leading up to a grief anniversary, even years later, people find their feelings can resurface, be stronger or difficult to manage than usual.
Coping with Death Anniversaries
Anniversaries can evoke a range of emotions and depending on what the anniversary it may not necessarily be overwhelmingly sad. The first anniversary of the person’s death is likely to be sadder than after 10 years. Christmas or birthdays may invoke happy memories, that are of course tinged with sadness, but are more manageable. Like with grief, everyone’s experience of death anniversaries will be individual, and as such coping strategies need to be tailored to the individual. Some ideas include:
- Pre-plan for the day
- Honour the memory of the deceased
- Be kind to yourself
- Seek professional support
Planning for a Death Anniversary
In the early months and years following the death you are likely to be hyper-aware of the loss and the impact on your feelings. As year’s pass, maybe even subconsciously, you may find your mood darkening and sadness creeping in as the anniversary approaches. It is important to plan for the day to help you cope with these feelings.
If it is the anniversary of the person’s death, thinking about how you would like to mark that occasion in advance and making any preparations, such as ordering flowers or arranging a visit their burial plot, may help you to cope. It is also a good idea to consider whether you’d like to spend the day alone or with others and arranging that accordingly. Likewise, if you work or have other commitments, you should consider booking the day off or making alternative arrangements for that day if you would prefer.
Honouring the Memory of the Deceased
Whatever the occasion, honouring the memory of the person that has died can help you to cope with the day. Particularly on dates such as a birthday or Christmas Day you may like to include traditions that were important to the deceased into the day. Alternatively, you may like to take some time out on the day to visit their grave, laying flowers or another memorial. As time passes, you may find that a short moment of reflection to hold their memory and special times shared close is enough to help you work through the emotions and carry on with the day.
Be Kind to Yourself
We all lead busy lives, and oftentimes we put others needs first. It easy in the throes of grief to put our feelings to the side and expend our energy on others instead. It is ok to put yourself first around the time of the grief anniversary. Reminding others what day it is, and saying no to their needs, and even asking others to help and support you can help you cope with the day. Of course, if you find being busy and distracted helps you, that is ok as well.
Seek Professional Support
If you are struggling to cope with the anniversary, whether grief has been ongoing and difficult, or has been triggered by the anniversary, you may find that you would benefit from professional support. You can ask your GP to refer you for grief counselling or find a private counsellor that can offer support to help you work through the emotions of grief and find some coping strategies. Celebrant Steve works closely with grief counsellors and can help you to arrange an appointment, you can contact him for more information.