By Dr. Lani Leary
I am approaching the first anniversary of my husband’s death. I know I am probably more sensitive to this date than my friends and many of my own family. The day will be really difficult for me. Do you have any suggestions for how to get through it?”
Until we go through our own personal loss it is difficult to be prepared or truly appreciate the intensity of grief and how long it affects us. Grief is a process that extends over time. In most cases, grief has a lifelong impact on who we are and how we see ourselves in the world. It is your grief and only you know its personal meaning in your life. That means you are living it day-in and day-out in a way that others cannot know.
The first anniversary of the death of a loved one is especially difficult. Others can hurt, help, or heal during this time and you can help yourself by educating others about what you need.
Those of us going through a first anniversary have reported some suggestions for support. Most important is acknowledging the loss and referencing the loved one. Grieving is about remembering, so friends and family should help remember the deceased with stories, photos, or personal connections. It helps to have “permission” not to be okay, to show the pain and hurt or to be withdrawn if that is how you are feeling. We need people who will listen without personalizing or trying to take the pain away. We need to be able to share exactly what we are feeling without feeling judged or evaluated. In a word, we need someone who will be present with us.
Remembrances can be in the form of a ritual or ceremony, which is setting aside a time and place with the purpose of acknowledging our relationship with the deceased and the change in our life because of the loss.
There is a “bereavement overload” when our grief, our loved one, or the death is not acknowledged or when there is not a private or public dialogue of the loss.
I encourage you to spend time thinking about what you will need on or around this anniversary day. Reach out and carefully choose those friends and family that can give you what you need, and ask directly for specific acts of patience and kindness. Design a ceremony or ritual that will have meaning for you and set aside the time to make it happen. The ceremony may include a meaningful place, music, food, or activity that held a special memory for you and your husband.
Dr. Leary is a psychologist and certified grief therapist who consults with LifeNet Health. Her responses reflect her professional opinion to general questions. Individuals struggling with complicated grief are encouraged to seek the care of a professional.