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:
- It hurt too much for “happy anniversary” greetings to be welcome.
- 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.