How to cope with grief year after year
A loved one’s death can be a devastating event, leaving you with feelings of disbelief, shock, anger and, of course, sadness. Those profound feelings can return months and even years later as anniversary reactions.
“Anniversary reactions can leave one feeling flooded with the same intensity of memories, sensations and emotions,” says Nicole Cherek, a counselor with Aurora Behavioral Health in South Milwaukee, Wis. “These reactions are reminders of the feelings of grief that were felt at the time of the loss, even if it’s several years later.”
There are inevitable reminders of the loss, from the anniversary of the person’s death, holidays, birthdays or events you know the person would have enjoyed. Even services or memorials for others can remind you of your own loss.
“Many people feel the first year is the hardest after losing a loved one,” Cherek says. “During the first year, the shock, disbelief and sadness can leave you feeling like you’re in a fog and just going through the motions in life.”
The following years also can be difficult, she says.
“Anniversaries are yet another year that you are without your loved one,” she said. “Each anniversary is the longer it’s been since you’ve seen the loved one, heard their voice or hugged them.”
These reactions can be triggered by many events, not just the anniversary of the passing. Here are some tips to help cope with anniversary reactions:
- Give yourself permission to grieve. There are not sequential steps to grief. Allow yourself to feel the whole range of emotions.
- Recall positive memories. Try to focus on happy times with your loved one.
- Use your support system. Talk to other people who knew your loved one.
- Start new traditions. Don’t feel like you must do everything exactly as it was when your loved one died. It’s okay to try new things.
- Plan distractions. If there’s a specific time you are likely to be reminded of your loved one’s death, plan something fun to do.
- Join a support group. Being with others who are experiencing the same loss may be comforting.
Most importantly, it’s good to know your limits. If your grief gets worse over time or interferes with your ability to function in daily life, it’s time to seek professional help. Unresolved grief can lead to depression, other mental health problems and even other medical conditions.
About the Author
Heather Collier works in Advocate Aurora Health’s public affairs and marketing department. She is based in Milwaukee.