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Anniversary Reactions After Passing of a Loved One

HEALTH NEWS FROM SENIOR HEALTHCARE ADVISORS


By Dr. Marilyn B. Field



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Grief doesn't magically end at a certain point after a loved one's death. Reminders often bring back the pain of loss”. –Mayo Clinic

When someone you loved dies, you very well might have to relive that grief over and over again; sometimes months or years later. Feelings related to grief and loss may return on the anniversary of their death, on their birthday, or other special occasions, and sometimes on all of them.


These emotions are sometimes referred to as an “anniversary reaction”. They are not necessarily a setback in your grieving process. They are a reflection of how important your loved one's life was to you.


Reminders Can Happen Anywhere


Specific reminders of the loss of your loved one are sometimes inevitable, like when you visit their gravesite, on their birthdays, holidays, or events such as the Super Bowl, or something else you know they enjoyed. Even when a friend or acquaintance loses a loved one, or someone posts their loss on social media, it can trigger the pain associated with your own grief.


Anniversary reactions can also be triggered by smells, sights, and sounds, and they can hit you without warning. You may find yourself overwhelmed with emotions when you drive past a fast food joint the two of you enjoyed together, or when their favorite song comes over the radio.


What to Expect from Anniversary Reactions


The way people’s grief plays out is unpredictable, and can last for days. In some cases, it can last an extreme amount of time. During an anniversary reaction you may feel as intensely grief stricken as you did the day they died. You may experience the following:


  • Anger

  • Loneliness

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Crying spells

  • Guilt

  • Fatigue, or lack of energy

  • Pain

  • Sadness

  • Insomnia


Anniversary reactions can also be traumatic, as you may remember in vivid detail exactly where you were and what you were doing on the day you lost your loved one.


Tips for Coping when Reliving Grief



For months or years after the loss of a loved one, you may still feel terribly sad when you are faced with reminders of their death. Take steps as you continue to heal to cope with reminders of the death of your loved one. For instance:


  1. Stay prepared. Anniversary reactions happen to all of us and they are normal. Knowing that there is a good chance you will experience anniversary reactions can help you heal by understanding them .

  2. Plan a distraction. Schedule a trip to the movies with a friend, dinner, or a play, when you are most likely to have to face an anniversary reaction.

  3. Reminisce about the good times you had in your relationship. Focus on the positive things, and the good things about your time together, rather than the loss.

  4. Write a note or a letter to your loved one about good memories, and keep that list handy so you can add to it.

  5. Create a new tradition. Donate to your favorite charity in your loved-ones name on holidays or birthdays, or plant a tree honoring them.

  6. Reach out. Draw family and friends close to you, including those who were also close to your loved one. Find someone who has good listening skills, and who will encourage you to express your feelings. Talk to a religious figure or spiritual counselor about how you feel. Stay connected to your social groups and support systems.

  7. Don’t let anyone tell you that “you’ve had enough time” or to “get over it”. Those people can lead you into toxic shame.

  8. Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions. Know that feeling sad and a sense of great loss is normal, while also paying attention to the happiness and joy you experienced together. Re-live the joy and happiness! Don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing and crying.




When Grief Becomes Too Intense


As mentioned, there is no time limit for the grieving process, and anniversary reactions can leave you feeling devastated. But, time is a cure-all, and the grief will lessen over time. However, if it gets worse over time and starts to interfere with your functioning on a daily basis, talk to your mental health provider.


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Unresolved grief can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and many other mental health issues, and can wear down your immune system due to repeated stress causing physical conditions. With the help of a professional who specializes in grief and loss, you can gain back a sense of control in your life, and get back on the path toward healing. Remember, you are not alone and many people are experiencing similar feelings.