Anniversary after Death

Anniversaries are different after a loved one’s death. And there are more of them than there were before.

My first wedding anniversary after my husband died was/would have been our 25th. (Note my confused tense. Since he was gone, did I still count each new year as an anniversary? Or did the numbers freeze at 24, the last we spent together?)

Ten months into widowhood, I was “still” in shock. I remember only two things about my first widowed wedding anniversary:

  1. It hurt too much for “happy anniversary” greetings to be welcome.
  2. It hurt worse not having it acknowledged at all.

The kindest contacts let me know they were thinking of me — and of my loss. I read my friends’ support in texts, emails, Facebook messages, handwritten notes, and cards. Others left phone messages I heard later (because I didn’t feel inclined to answering the phone that day).

If you’re wondering whether (or how) to mention your friends’ wedding anniversaries after they’ve lost their spouses, here are some tips:

  • Say something before the anniversary if you can. For many bereaved, the days leading up to are as hard as (if not harder than) the day of. Even a belated acknowledgment is better than none.
  • Avoid cheery, cliché greeting-card greetings.
    Don’t say, “Happy Anniversary” as if this year is no different (even though you do wish them happiness).
    Don’t say, “Have a wonderful anniversary” (because without their beloved spouse that’s not likely).
  • Acknowledge the loss. Anniversaries after death are inextricably interwoven with that loss. Phrases like these are helpful:
    • I’m thinking of you as your anniversary approaches.”
    • You’re on my mind this week. I know this anniversary will be different.”
    •  “I know you’re missing your sweetheart.”
    • You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”

At the start of the post, I mentioned there are more anniversaries after a death than there were before. Death marks a family’s calendar with its own darkly circled dates.

All the “typical” commemorations are there — holidays and birthdays and, yes, wedding anniversaries.

But for anyone who has lost a loved one (parent, child, spouse, sibling, best friend …) the death-added days are there, too — the death date, the funeral date, the day the death certificate finally arrived, the day the cemetery marker was installed, and (in cases where death was expected due to illness) the dates of first symptoms, first diagnosis, hospice care, etc.  All are anniversaries of their own sorts.

Even when death was expected (and perhaps welcomed) at the end of a long, productive life (ultimately impeded by a painful, protracted illness), such “sadiversaries” or “angelversaries” carry pain for the survivors as much as they bring remembered relief for the release of the sufferers.

(A quick side note here: As “happy” as I was for my 54-year-old mother’s release from the cancer that entrapped her body, and as “grateful” as I was that my 47-year-old husband was no longer imprisoned by the premature deterioration of his mind, I was — and still am — neither happy nor grateful that either of them died so young. I’d have much preferred decades more together. So, please. Please don’t tell me — or anyone mourning — why we should be glad or thankful for our loved ones’ deaths. Grieving is not compatible with Pollyanna’s “glad game.”)

I’d say all such dates are difficult to get through during the first year, but that would do a disservice to everyone who has lost someone close to them. Love has no time limits. Neither does grief. I mentioned not remembering much about my first widowed anniversary, but I don’t remember the second one, either. The shock of widowed fog (and other grief) can — and often does — blur more than a single year’s worth of seasons. 

We will always mourn those we’ve loved, but we won’t always be consumed by that bereavement. Given time and encouragement, we learn to live with the grief. We learn to live in spite of it. We learn to live forward again.

But as anniversaries approach — even years later — we can always use expressions of loving help and caring encouragement from our friends.

"The language of love is expressed in countless caring ways."

Snapshot taken by Mom, tucked in a Hallmark card from my late husband. Teresa TL Bruce, TealAshes.com

 

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “Anniversary after Death

  1. My first anniversary without my husband is coming up and it is also our 25th. It was the anniversary we really looked forward to. We had been making plans for years to take our first vacation alone since our honeymoon, where we planned to renew our vows. Our special anniversary, 25 years on the 25th of May. Needless to say, this anniversary will be very different from what we planned. Much love to everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gabriele, I’m so sorry. I hope you will be kind to (and patient with) yourself as your anniversary date approaches. Unfulfilled plans and dreams add layers of pain to the loss you’ve already experienced.

      Before my first anniversary without my husband, a few widowed friends gave me wise advice to schedule flexibility as the date approached. They suggested I plan something I wanted to do for myself while giving myself permission to back out if that’s what I wanted.

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      • My anniversary is Monday August 15th this is the first one since my husband died and I feel more lost than ever what do I do

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      • Pam, I’m so sorry. With your anniversary only a few days away, I’m sure the pain and loss is excruciating. You love your husband; it’s understandable that the intensity of how much you miss him is ratcheted up.

        I wish I could give you an easy, make-it-better-now answer. For me, the days leading up to my first widowed wedding anniversary were harder than the day itself. I remember feeling lost and alone and bewildered.

        I think shock reared its head again on the day of that first widowed anniversary; I can’t remember what I did. However, I scrawled a note to myself in the following year’s calendar: “No promises to anyone about anything today. NONE.”

        I do remember the advice other widows and widowers shared with me (which I still follow) for such days. They told me what worked for them was to plan ahead, but with “permission” to cancel plans if that was needed.

        They urged me to plan an activity or outing I would like (a hobby, a movie, a favorite book or restaurant), something I’d have liked even before my husband died. They suggested I plan to do it with family or friends (or maybe with widowed new acquaintances), letting them know up front that on the day of (or maybe even the hour of), I might want or need to back out.

        Many of my widowed friends now use their wedding anniversaries (and their late spouses’ birthdays and death anniversaries) as days to immerse themselves in kind acts for others in honor of their dear ones. (Serving others doesn’t always lessen my grieving, but it allows me to know I’ve lightened another’s load even while feeling my own.)

        Whatever your anniversary traditions have been in the past, only you will know whether keeping them alone or changing them up (on your own or with others) will lessen the pain of celebrating your wedding day without your husband — and it’s possible you won’t know for yourself which is better for you this year.

        I know it hurts. As hard as it has been to get through each day so far, your anniversary day may be every bit as difficult — but you’ll get through it. Don’t be afraid to call on friends. Chances are they want to help but don’t know how.

        You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My father-in-law passed away March 31 and this June would have been my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. I want to acknowledge the day, but I am unsure what would bring my mother-in-law any peace or happiness on this difficult day (I feel I should have some kind of idea since my husband and I have lost two children but a wedding anniversary is completely different, and I am at a loss), any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  3. […] when Shellie posted this comment (see Anniversary after Death) […]

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  4. Today is the 2nd Wedding Anniversary after my husbands death. Would have been 13 years. I have a new boyfriend but I am still consumed with thoughts of my husband today. Trying not to be sad, but to feel the love and hope I feel from him everyday. I KNOW he wants me to be happy, and I’m taking it one day at a time. But days like today take an hour at a time. Just wanted to say it out loud, without talking to people I know about it. I don’t want it to be a “woe is me” thing. I’m here to stay. And although I thought I would spend the rest of my life with him, I realized he spent the rest of his with me.

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    • It’s natural to feel more deeply on significant dates like your anniversary. The first year, if you were at all like me, you probably had a bit of shock still clinging to you when your anniversary arrived. This second year that protective shock is likely gone. You are stronger by now, too, and I’m so happy for you that you are in a new relationship! But that doesn’t negate the love you’ve held for thirteen years … especially on the anniversary of your marriage.

      Your last sentence is profound: his memory and your life together will always be a part of who you are.

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  5. […] written elsewhere of why July 4th renews missing my mother and about my first wedding anniversary after my spouse died — our 25th. Tiptoeing toward and through those dates (and a birthday) this month had me on […]

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  6. Thank you for this post.

    My mom lost her husband (my dad) 8 years ago, I never say anything around their wedding anniversary or his death anniversary because I believe it’s easier to just move on and not acknowledge something that doesn’t exist anymore. We were talking and she mentioned that the 10th (of September) would have been their 40th, which is when I searched to see if you’re supposed to say something and found your blog, because again, I just ‘ignore’ it, for lack of a better term. I actually thought saying something would make it worse and trudge up all the emotions she’s had to work so hard to fight through all the years. Now I know and I’ll do my best to be better about it. Does this count for their old Birthdays too??

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    • I’m sorry for the loss of your father eight years ago. It’s thoughtful for you to consider what will be most helpful to your mother. Everyone grieves differently, but most of the widows and widowers I’ve spoken with feel acute loneliness on their wedding anniversaries. Unless she tells you otherwise, I believe your mother will appreciate acknowledgment of the occasion — it helps to know it’s not forgotten altogether.

      In most cases, the bereaved also appreciate knowing others are aware of their late loved ones’ birthdays. Most remain aware of the dates — it’s unlikely you’ll “remind” them of their grief. (Rarely, it happens that someone has forgotten the date, but even so, you will have let them know you are aware and that you care.)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My husband passed away 7 years ago and this year would have been our 50th anniversary. I would like a dinner with children and grandchildren, Is this a proper thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gayle, I’m sorry for the loss of your husband after so many years together.

      Your idea sounds like a lovely way to commemorate your 50th anniversary. If you’d like to gather your family together, please do!

      (When you invite your children, keep in mind they may or may not feel up to it. If it is to painful for any of them, let them know you understand and don’t mean to pressure them. Keep the invitation open, but allow them the space to grieve and heal in the way they need to.)

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  8. I just wanted to thank you for writing this post which I stumbled upon this morning while looking for ideas about what to do or say to my dad who 50 years ago today married mum, who we list suddenly a few weeks ago. It is such a difficult time and I’m so sorry for your loss but your comments are reassuring and helpful so my heartfelt thanks for sharing your story. Life goes on and I know mum would have preferred we celebrate the life and times we shared than keep mourning our loss. Will always miss her but she’s rarely far from our thoughts, and forever in our hearts. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for an excellent post. Very much appreciated. j

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on What to Say When Someone Dies and commented:

    Death anniversaries and widowed wedding anniversaries have a lot in common. One of the best ways to help grieving friends through is by letting them know you’re aware of their pain.

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  11. Thank you for you insight. We lost my mom at the young age of 59 from a mix of renal disease & Alzheimers. The latter made our decision not to put her through dialysis when she didn’t know what was going on any more. My parents 40th anniversary is this September, only 2 1/2 months or so after her death. I have been looking for ways to help my dad through their first wedding anniversary after her passing. Today he said was the worst day so far since her death on July 1st. He has been playing so light hearted & that he is ok but i know he is broken because my parents love is the picture of how love should be. Through the good & bad. Your article is giving me some ideas on how to help him. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathi, I’m sorry about the loss of your mother. With the cruelty of Alzheimer’s, you’ve no doubt had to say goodbye to her in many little ways at a time. Even so, it’s understandable that the new, raw grief of her passing is difficult. Bless you for seeking ways to help your father while you’re also grieving.

      Thank you for your kind feedback. I wish you and your dad as much peace as possible through these early, painful months as you begin to process your grief and support one another.

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  12. Thank you so much for your post. We lost our son suddenly at 37 and even though I had gone through the pain I still had trouble reaching out to others who were grieving their losses. By reading your posts I now have the courage to comfort others. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

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