The 12 months following the death of a loved one is known as “the year of firsts” and for obvious reasons, is extremely difficult to get through. Dealing with the first birthday, Christmas, etc. is painful, and does not necessarily equip one to face that dreaded anniversary of the loss.
Grief is a complicated experience, partially because it never truly resolves itself but rather changes over time and meanders along different paths; some difficult and others not so difficult.
Facing the anniversary of a meaningful loss can completely blindside one, even though we know that it is coming and generally anticipate it with dread. Just as with other “stages” of grief, getting through this time can be immensely difficult and there is no right way or wrong way to approach it; the experience is different for each individual.
Every single person will be faced with losses of those we love and admire throughout our lifetime, and the loss of a child is always the worst.
Sometimes it is OK
If the only thing you did today
Even though we all experience and cope with loss, grief and the anniversary of a loved one’s death in our own way, there are some things which we can do to make it tolerable, or at least get through it without unravelling completely:
The media generally portrays grief in ways that can be both validating and vexing. Various “experts” for instance suggest that one should not be left alone as the anniversary of your loved one’s death approaches, or on the day of the anniversary itself (especially the first one), yet you may prefer to spend time by yourself .
Just because others think that you should participate in a memorial ceremony on that day does not mean that you have to. What works for others may not necessarily work for you, and that is fine! Trust your gut when figuring out the appropriate way to manage your grief.
Whether you prefer to spend time alone, at a movie theatre, curled up in bed, with close friends, with family, at the park, at the spa, or taking in a comedy show, it is YOUR choice! There is no wrong way to spend this day – it is YOUR grief and you need to trust that you know what is best for you and ask that those around you respect your wishes.
Your initial plans to spend the day visiting your loved one’s grave-site or a mutually meaningful local spot may have seemed the right thing a few months or even weeks ago, but you may well realise as the day approaches that an intimate meal at home with the family and/or a few close friends would far better suit you.
Allow yourself to be flexible; there are no rules here that say that you have to stick to previously-made plans. Allow yourself to go with the flow if your feelings and needs change and do not feel guilty, judge yourself or allow others to judge you.
Have Support on Standby
If you suspect that the anniversary of your child’s death may be extremely traumatic or difficult for you, confide this to someone who you trust so that they can be on standby if needed. Even if you do not end up calling them, merely knowing that you have that option can in itself be very comforting.
You may want to set a date up with your partner or a trusted friend or family member for the next day or even a few days later; this can offer you the space to reflect on how the anniversary of your child’s death affected you and an opportunity to process it with someone.
If you have a counsellor in your support system, consider scheduling an appointment before and after this time.
Decide for Yourself what is “Meaningful”
Your personal connection to your child that passed is unique; nobody else has the same connection, loves them in exactly the same way; nobody has the same specific memories that make you both laugh and cry at the same time.
Your memories are how you experienced your child’s life through your own eyes, so whatever YOU decide you want to do as this anniversary of the most painful day of your life approaches is valuable and fine.
You may wish to spend some time in a place of worship, or in a favourite place where you used to go together, visit their grave or memorial site, cook their favourite meal just for the family to share, or just curl up on the couch and watch a movie that has some meaning for you – it is YOUR choice what it meaningful to YOU; do NOT let anyone else hijack this day!
Give Yourself Permission
There is no way that you can be 100% sure how this day will affect you; the important thing is that you know that however you feel is VALID!! Give yourself permission to give your emotions free reign – allow yourself to feel sad, indifferent, sullen, motivated, lethargic, angry…
Face the next day without any judgement on how you handled the day before…