Expert Health Articles

Getting Through Annual Reminders

Niki SidleNiki Sidle

Bridge Home Health & Hospice, Bereavement Coordinator

Christmas, birthdays, wedding anniversaries…these dates are warmed by tender recollections. Now, take a moment to think back to when you lost a loved one. What was your first birthday without your loved one like? That first Thanksgiving or Christmas? Those annual reminders can be increasingly difficult at times.

Certain reminders of your loved one might be inevitable, such as a visit to cemetery, the anniversary of the person's death, holidays, birthdays or new events he/she would have enjoyed. Reminders also can be tied to sights, sounds and smells. You might suddenly be flooded with emotions when you drive by a restaurant or when you hear a song.

The course of grief is unpredictable. Anniversary reactions can last for days at a time or, in more extreme cases, 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, fatigue, loneliness or sadness.

Annual reminders can also evoke powerful memories of the feelings and events surrounding your loved one's death. For example, you might remember in great detail where you were and what you were doing when your loved one died. Allow yourself to experience these feelings when they occur. There are ways, though, to alleviate the stress of annual reminders.

Be prepared: Annual reminders are normal and knowing that you are likely to experience reactions can help you understand and even turn them into opportunities for healing.

Connect with others: Draw friends and loved ones close to you, including people who were special to your loved one. Take up the offers of “Anything I can do” and ask for company shopping, to church or going to the cemetery.

Create distraction: Schedule a gathering or a visit with friends or loved ones during times when you are likely to feel alone or be reminded of your loss.

Look back: 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.

Allow yourself to feel: It is okay 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!

There is no time limit for grief and annual reminders can leave you reeling, but intensity of grief tends to lessen with time. If your grief gets worse over time instead of better or interferes with your ability to function in daily life, consult a grief counselor or other mental health provider. Unresolved or complicated grief can lead to depression or medical complications.

Often time’s people talk about how time heals all wounds. A cut heals but a scar remains as a constant reminder. Treasure those scars. They have made you who you are today.