Though our stories are unique, you came here because your ending was the same as mine. Precious One, I am so sorry for your loss. I realize you have a day you remember with a heavy heart – the anniversary of your husband’s death. How can you face that day when it appears on your calendar? Unlike annual celebrations that you look forward to with anticipation, this one may cause your emotions to stumble.
You’re Going to Feel a Little Pressure
Here’s one way to think about it. When a medical professional tells you “you’re going to feel a little pressure,” you know that whatever happens next is likely to hurt. Sometimes a lot. You have to get through it so you do, but pain is definitely present in varying degrees. As you may have already guessed, the anniversary of your husband’s death will cause you to feel a little pressure.
Plainly said, the anniversary is usually a hard day. That’s the baseline. Especially during the initial year or two, you may relive the sadness almost as if feeling it for the first time. Maybe, like me, you were an automaton going through the motions during his funeral as if you’d been programmed with coded instructions. You weren’t really there. When my husband’s first anniversary came around I mentally walked through the events of his death almost like it was a new experience. I felt both detached and sad when I did this.
Yet the day has another aspect to it. It isn’t just about coping with your grief. It’s also about remembering the man you grieve. I think realizing this distinction is helpful. You can choose to acknowledge the grief but then focus on the remembrance. This will allow your husband’s memory to be celebrated while offering you a way to center your emotions on creating new and meaningful traditions. Ultimately, of course, it’s up to you. How you want to mark the anniversary is personal.
How I Remembered the First Anniversary
I have found that it’s better to plan something rather than do nothing. Also, I prefer the company of friends and certain family members to spending the day isolated. You may want to consider your own introvert versus extrovert tendencies as you think about what would be helpful and meaningful to you. As a general rule, your friends and family want to be there for you. They will be glad if you ask for their participation and support. Just be specific. “Could you make cookies, help me with meal prep, record a song list, come over, meet me for tea, take a walk with me, go to the gravesite with me” or whatever it is you need.
Since Mark’s anniversary is in January, my children and I chose to visit his grave and lay flowers there but we didn’t linger. It was too cold. Afterwards we had a potluck meal at our home where everyone contributed a dish. Those invited were each asked to prepare a few words about some of their favorite memories of my husband. My children were encouraged to ask a friend or two to be part of the gathering. Some of these young invitees added their memories to the time of sharing. “I liked your Dad’s funny voices,” said one. “I remember when he took us hiking to Tucquan Glen and we caught salamanders,” said another.
Throughout the evening those present could look through my scrapbooks which were laid open on the table. So much love had gone into creating those scrapbooks. Now here they were, a memorial to our lives before cancer.
Did we cry? At some point I believe that just about everyone did, even the men. There was no shame. We had something big to cry about. Yet we also laughed as we told stories about Mark, recalled how funny, smart and kind he was and how he had enriched our lives. It felt so good to talk about him openly and to corporately remember him among a group of people who also loved him.
It’s Not Just a Single Day
Research indicates that the body remembers even when the mind is not paying attention. Through the years I’ve noticed that I get a sense of melancholy beginning a few days before January 25th. Knowing this allows me to be deliberate to include activities and simple pleasures during that week. A trip to the bookstore or library, coffee with girlfriends, a splurge on a pedicure, basically anything that offers a bit of blessing or added goodness to the day is the sort of thing I choose to plan for and to do. I try to be my own friend during what I think of as my own “Holy Week”, offering to myself what I would naturally think to do for others.
As you consider your own anniversary day, give thought to what might work best for you and your family. If you have children you naturally want them to be included, to feel that though the family may look different, it’s still family. Brainstorm with them to see if they have any ideas. But even if they don’t, make sure you yourself feel supported. It’s a hard day. You may start new traditions or change it up year to year moving forward.
Below I’ve made a list of different things we have done, or in some cases thought to do but didn’t execute, on Mark’s anniversary. I hope that one or two of these may offer a small spark that leads you to discover meaningful remembrances of your own.
I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out not to be a state but a process.
Wishing you peace,
Anniversary Remembrance Ideas
- Have family members write messages to your husband. If the symbolism appeals to you, place the messages in a bonfire. The rising smoke carries them heavenward.
- Gather the ingredients of his favorite meal and make it with your family and friends. Share the meal with loved ones or take it to someone in need. The process of collecting the ingredients itself can be part of the activity.
- Have each member of the family wear one of his shirts or his t-shirts or something else that belonged to him.
- Gather friends and family and do any kind of group activity that is meaningful to you: a walk, a bike ride, a charitable action, or attend a class, a performance or a movie. Use your imagination as to what suits your desires and reflects your husband’s interests. Afterwards meet up for a time of fellowship and food. One year I gathered a group of Mark’s friends on Mark’s favorite ski slope. I said a few words, handed out mardi gras beads to each person and then we all did a ski run in Mark’s memory. That evening we had dinner together.
- Plant a tree in your husband’s memory. Each year paint rocks with memorial images or sayings to place around the base of the tree, or just skip planting the tree and put the rocks in your garden.
- Gather at his gravesite, if he has one, for a time of fellowship, of memory or of prayer. I have met some of my girlfriends at Mark’s gravesite on his birthday. This occurs in the summer. We clean his memorial stone then hang out on the grass for drinks and snacks. We make a point to talk about him and remember him.
- Years ago it was popular to release helium balloons into the air. I would strongly discourage this for the same reason that you wouldn’t litter the ground by dumping out a bag of balloons. Nonetheless, maybe you can think of other ways for your wishes and messages to your husband to drift skyward. Maybe attach them to a kite, or blow bubbles. Label the bubble bottles with your husband’s name, a message of hope, a scripture verse or something he used to say.
- Use colored chalk to write messages to your husband on your driveway. Make them big enough to be seen from overhead.
- Symbolically make what is invisible (for example your love or the sense of your husband’s presence), into something visible by hanging or holding prisms up to the light. I love the imagery of the rainbow being made visible by having the right tool to see it.
- Line your walkway with luminaries, one for each year of your husband’s life.
If you have any ideas of your own that you would like to share, please write to me. I would love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org