Help Me Deal with Special Days and Anniversaries 

Our society marks the anniversaries of significant world events. Most of MY generation remembers where they were you when President Kennedy was shot, or when Elvis or John Lennon died? The anniversary of the death of Princess Diana sees albeit shrinking commemorations, and the horrific events of 9/11 in New York, marked by monthly remembrance services on the 11th of every month in the first year, are now remembered annually.

Memory writes on every page of the calendar throughout the year. Here a wedding anniversary, there a birthday, everywhere another significant celebration. After someone dies, these meaningful days can be difficult as we realize once more that they can never be repeated with that someone you have loved.

Why is it that significant anniversary occasions are so painfully difficult? Memories are the grieving mind’s invitation to remember, rather than to forget. The remembering of special days and anniversary occasions puts the fact of the death into a context. We remember that it was one month or a year ago, and that provides a framework, a chronological context in which we can place an event that still seems unreal and unimaginable. The anniversary gives us another opportunity to revisit the event in order to believe the unbelievable and accept the unacceptable a little more fully.

As anniversary occasions loom darkly on the horizon, we dread it, realizing that tears we thought and even hoped were behind us will swell again, and that the loneliness of missing the person will rise to the surface.

Sometimes people are tempted to think they can avoid the painful reminder. “I’m just going to pretend it is just like any other day. I’m not going to think about it.” I recall a gentleman who decided on that course of action the first Christmas after his wife died. “I’m going on holiday to Mexico” I recollect him saying. “I’m going to sit on a beach and enjoy the warm sun, and not think about the holidays, and I’m not coming back till January.” I wished him well, and off he went. When I saw him in January I asked how the strategy had worked. His words were telling. “They have Christmas in Mexico.” He was unable to avoid the memories.

We have a choice. We cannot escape the impact of those days. These anniversary reminders of life and death are unavoidable. The only choice is whether we will control the grief or whether we will allow the grief to control US. Avoidance does not work well, because just when we least expect it, grief taps us on the shoulder and we are consumed by it. We may even get through the actual day well, but the grief attack will occur a day or so earlier, or a week or two later. Reconciling our loss and putting it to rest will be accomplished by working at it, not by ignoring and hoping it will go away. I encourage people to realize that “The first is the worst” and the sooner we go through the challenge, the easier it is.

So how can we meet these milestones head on and allow them to be a bridge to a brighter tomorrow?

Anniversaries serve as an opportunity to take stock; to see where the river of time and circumstance has led; to review some lessons and plan what is ahead. And if nothing else, they serve to remind us that we have made it thus far, and that in itself is worth celebrating.

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