Grief evolves over time. You may feel it swell and recede over time, but it never goes away. We continue to grow and live around our grief like a tree learns to grow around a fence or electrical wires. Eventually, reaching a state where it has helped shape us but is no longer at the heart of our growth. But, just like a tree growing, this takes time.
For many of us, a year may seem like a long time when you are at the beginning of it. But when you are eleven months in, and you look back on it, it feels like no time has passed at all. This feeling can get even more pronounced when you look back on the first year after you’ve lost someone close to you. Before you know it, you’re looking at your calendar, and you see the first anniversary of their death coming up.
Ways to Cope With Your Loved One’s First Death Anniversary
Unlike a wedding anniversary or a birthday, many of us dread the anniversary of a death — especially if it is the first one. This day marks a whole year spent without someone you care about, and that can be an incredibly scary and devastating realization.
You may have felt like your grief had ended and you had moved on and recovered, but then you see that date on the calendar, and all of those emotions come flooding back. This is extremely common, and most often, the lead-up to the actual day is the hardest part to get through. You may find yourself remembering what happened a year ago, or you may find yourself rekindling all those feelings of loss and isolation that you felt when your loved one passed.
While these feelings can absolutely be challenging, there are ways that you can honor them — and your loved one — on this day and make space for yourself to continue healing and growing.
Recognize and Accept Your Feelings
The first anniversary is going to be emotional. It will be hard. This is simply human nature — we love, we lose, and we remember. You will remember things about your loved one, things you did together, things they wanted to do, and maybe even things that you wish you had done with them or done differently. This is natural, and it will bring up a number of complicated (and possibly stressful) emotions and feelings.
Trying to push these feelings away or ignoring them isn’t going to do you or anyone else any good. Only when you accept your feelings for what they are and truly understand that all feelings are valuable can you heal.
Plan for It
One of the best ways to ensure that you aren’t caught off guard when this day comes is to plan for it ahead of time. You do not have to do anything fancy or even be with other people if you do not want to, but plan something for the day for yourself. Trying to forget about the anniversary or schedule a normal day will generally end up making the day harder rather than easier.
So, maybe you take a day off of work — or a few days if you need — and take the time to allow yourself to feel and truly process your emotions. Perhaps you make plans with your family or friends to honor your loved one. Or maybe you take time to simply reflect and celebrate the life that your loved one had.
Pick a Small Way Honor Your Loved One
If you aren’t ready to (or don’t want to) create a tradition or get together with your loved ones for a celebration or gathering, that is okay. You do not need to rush into anything you are not ready for or don’t want to do. Try doing something smaller instead.
Think about your loved one, think about the memories you have of them, and think about how you can help keep those memories alive.
For example, maybe your loved one made the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. To honor them, you could try making a batch of your own using their recipe if you have it. Or, if you don’t, try to recreate it based on your memories — be warned, this one takes a lot of trial and error, and you may never truly recreate that cookie, but the time you spend trying can feel like they are there remaking this recipe with you.
If your loved one wasn’t a baker, maybe they had a favorite song you could listen to or a favorite movie you could watch. The goal is to pick something that truly makes you feel in touch with your memories of them and helps you keep those memories with you.
Take Time to Reflect
While it may be hard and incredibly emotional, one of the best ways to continue your healing journey after losing a loved one is to make time for yourself to reflect. Ask yourself questions about the previous year. Think about what you did, what you achieved, and what you missed out on. Consider the impact the loss had on your year, and think about how you can have an even better year as you move forward.
Be kind to yourself. This first anniversary will affect everyone differently, but the best thing you can do to honor your loved one is to honor yourself. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions want to come up and recognize that there is no right or wrong way to spend this day. Take care of yourself and be gentle.
Get Support from Others
Whether you contact family and friends or a mental health professional, having someone to talk to, confide in, and simply share your experiences with can be an excellent way to honor your loved one and continue healing yourself.
Family and friends can provide incredible support and share memories and experiences of their own with you. On the other hand, while a therapist cannot share these same memories of your loved one with you, they can provide support in a different way. For example, if you are looking for guidance on how you can cope with the strong emotions you are feeling or techniques you can use to process these feelings healthily, they can be an excellent resource.
If you are feeling stressed, worried, or anxious about the first anniversary of your loved one’s death, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow.