The First Year Anniversary

By Helen Fitzgerald

It is almost a year since the death of a loved one. As this first year anniversary approaches, you may feel that an internal clock is counting down the days and hours. You may be thinking: one year ago today we were celebrating his birthday or one year ago today we got the diagnosis. With such thoughts you can be overcome again by intense, painful grief that you thought was over. As one who has gone through the same experience, I simply want to reassure you that this is normal; it happens to almost everyone who has lost a loved one.
Here are some first-year anniversary suggestions that I hope you will find helpful. The first set is for you, and the second set is for friends and co-workers who may want to help.

For You

To begin with, plan for the day. Do not fool yourself into thinking that if you ignore it, it will go away. You are better off confronting it and dealing with it. Also, be careful not to expect your family, friends or colleagues at work to remember the significance of this particular day, the day your loved one died. Expecting such support, you could be bitterly disappointed. To avoid this, it is okay to remind those around you that the day is approaching, thereby making clear to them that you are aware of the date–and that it’s okay for them to mention it, too. Let them know how the coming anniversary is affecting you and just how difficult it is for you. Give them some ideas of what they might do to help. I suggest that you start your planning as soon as you find yourself thinking about the anniversary. Ask yourself these questions: Who do I want to remind of this painful date? What do I want to do that day? Do I want to work as usual, or should I try to take the day off? If I take the day off, what will I do? Should I plan an informal gathering of friends? Should I arrange a memorial service at the church? Should I get away entirely and go to the beach or to the mountains? And if I do that, who do I want to take with me?

Often the anticipation of the anniversary is more stressful than the actual day, especially with well-laid plans. Once this first year anniversary has passed, you will have made it through an entire year of “firsts.” Often the second year is easier, and this is normal as you slowly progress through your grief.

For Friends and Co-workers

If you remember that the one-year anniversary date of the death is coming up, but aren’t sure exactly when, it is certainly okay to ask your friend or co-worker. You will not open up old wounds; most likely they are already opened. He or she will be pleased that you remembered.

If you do remember the exact date, don’t surprise your friend or co-worker with an “event.” While these are kind intentions, this may be overwhelming. Instead, speak with your friend or co-worker and let him or her know you are aware of the anniversary. Let the person know that you are also aware that strong feelings of grief may return at this time and invite them to let you know if they need any special help at work or at home. Ask if they would like some time with you just to talk. Find a quiet space or go for a walk. Then you might offer some suggestions of things you could do to mark this event–going out to lunch, taking up a collection for a special charity, attending a church service with them, or spending the day together. If you are uncomfortable dealing so openly with the anniversary, you might simply buy a box of chocolates or some flowers that could be sent to the house or placed on the desk with an “I am thinking of you” card to be signed by a select group of friends.

Whatever you decide to do, the first-year anniversary of someone’s death is an opportunity to show love and caring to a bereaved friend or colleague, an act of friendship never to be forgotten.

© 2007 American Hospice Foundation. All Rights Reserved.