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Coping with the Anniversary of a Loved One’s Death

October 31, 2015

Grief is a journey that may lead us back again and again to feelings of loss, especially during special milestones, such as the anniversary of a loved one’s death. These feelings, often referred to as an anniversary reaction, may seem like a setback but are a normal part of the grieving process.

37323217_sAccording to the staff at the Mayo Clinic, “The course of grief is unpredictable. Anniversary reactions can last for days at a time or — in more extreme cases — much longer. During an anniversary reaction you might experience the intense emotions and reactions that you first experienced when you lost your loved one.”

But knowing what to expect and putting coping strategies in place can help you through the feelings of loss and get you back on the path to healing.

What to expect

Knowing that you’re likely to experience feelings of loss during an anniversary of a death can help you understand your feelings and not become overwhelmed by them:

  • Anniversary reactions are normal: Know that what you’re feeling is a normal part of the grieving process and allow your reactions – whatever they might be – to become an opportunity for healing. Remember that the natural aftershocks of grief should pass more quickly each time you experience them.
  • The first year is often the hardest: These feelings of loss can seem overwhelming as they approach for the first time. As this first year draws to a close, plan a memorial ritual to mark an official end to your first year of mourning. There are familiar and comforting ceremonies and activities unique to each religion, culture, tradition, and family to draw upon.
  • Be prepared: Often the anticipation of an anniversary date is worse than the actual day. You may be feeling anxious, sad or lonely as the anniversary date approaches. Identifying those feelings as part of the anniversary reaction helps to calm them down. You can get comfort and encouragement by turning to a support group or speaking with a bereavement counselor.

Ways to cope with reminders of loss

Here are some tips to cope with grief reawakened by the anniversary of the death of a loved one:

  • Spend time with those close to you: Schedule a gathering or a visit with friends or loved ones during the anniversary period when you’re likely to feel alone or be reminded of your loved one’s death. Let your friends and relatives know in advance which days and events are difficult for you. They may be very willing to help if you to tell them what you need.
  • Remember your loved one: It’s okay to remember; in fact, remembering is healthy. Focus on the good things about your relationship with your loved one and the time you had together, rather than the loss. Write a letter to your loved one which you can add to during the year.
  • Honor their memory: Make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one’s name, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one. Start a new tradition that you can carry out on each anniversary.
  • Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions: Give yourself permission to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself opportunities to experience joy and pleasure. You can balance your pain by thinking of happy as well as sad memories and giving thanks for the life of the person you’ve lost.
  • Accept your seeming setbacks: Setbacks are a reality of the grieving process, however, you can choose how you respond to those setbacks. While you cannot choose what life brings you, the attitudes you bring to life’s situations are always within your control.

The loss of someone significant never totally leaves you. It may resurface again and again during key periods, even many years after the loss. But each time you face those feelings of loss, it will be on new terms, and most likely those feelings won’t last as long or be as difficult.

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