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Dealing with an Anniversary of Death

Grieving is especially hard around the date of the death anniversary.  We are reminded of how long we have lived without our loved ones, and it also floods us with massive waves of grief.   Even if we are handling our loss in a healthy manner we know when their death anniversary is coming up, and brings up all sorts of grief emotions. This is normal, and usually will last a few days up to a full week.  We dread the date as it is coming up and once it passes we are still left with the leftover heavy emotion of our loss. We feel emotionally drained and that’s also normal. A big misconception is once the death anniversary date passes that we go back to our “new normal” that we never wanted. In truth it usually takes a full week to return to the new normal we never wanted.


Please do not beat yourself up around this heavy emotional time, it is important to treat yourself as well as you would a loved friend.  Please know that during this time your feelings of grief become magnified. Reminders can be anywhere. Reminders also can be tied to sights, sounds and smells — and they can be unexpected. You might suddenly be flooded with emotions when you drive by the restaurant your partner loved or when you hear your child's favorite song. This is not a setback in the grieving process. They’re a reflection that your loved one life was and is important to you.


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, including:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Crying Spells
  • Depression
  • Fatigue, or lack of energy
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Pain
  • Sadness
  • Trouble sleeping


Tips to cope with reawakened grief

Plan- it’s vital that you make a plan on these important days so that they don’t sneak up on you or overtake you. Your plan can be as simple as staying busy, binge-watching your favorite shows, spending time with family or friends, or being alone. Everyone grieves differently so you need to make a plan that will work for you. Remember, be kind to yourself, treat yourself as well as you treat your best friend.


Predict- Expect that you will be on an emotional roller coaster during this time. Predict that you will want and need to talk about it or not want to talk about it at all. Predict your worst and prepare for that in whichever way works best for you. Remember grief is as individual as we all are. Again be your own best friend.


Prepare- It’s extremely important to be prepared for this day. That could mean letting our loved ones know that this day is approaching. The point is to let your loved ones know that this day may be hard for you and you might need or want extra support. I always tell my clients: prepare for the worst - this way nothing will sneak up on you. Be prepared to have waves of grief, crying, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc. on this day. Again, remember to be kind to yourself and treat yourself as kindly as you would your best friend.


More tips to cope with reawakened grief

Even years after a loss, you might continue to feel sadness when you're confronted with reminders of your loved one's death. As you continue healing, take steps to cope with reminders of your loss. For example:

  • Be prepared. Anniversary reactions are normal. Knowing that you're likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
  • Plan a distraction. Schedule a gathering or a visit with friends or loved ones during times when you're likely to feel alone or be reminded of your loved one's death.
  • Reminisce about your relationship. 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 or a note about some of your good memories. You can add to this note anytime.
  • Start a new tradition. Make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one's name on birthdays or holidays, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one.
  • Connect with others. Draw friends and loved ones close to you, including people who were special to your loved one. Find someone who'll encourage you to talk about your loss. Stay connected to your usual support systems, such as spiritual leaders and social groups. Consider joining a bereavement support group.
  • Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. It's OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.


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Jillian Sokoloff M.A., MFT


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