5 Ways to Cope When the Anniversary of a Loved One Who's Passed Approaches

Let’s take a moment to talk about the date that comes around every year like clockwork. A date you cannot hide from. You can’t bury it like other aspects of grief because no matter what the date will appear each year.

Every year on April 11th, is the angelversary of the day my brother was killed. “Angelversary” is a term coined to denote the annual date for the passing of a loved one. Originally, it was denoted for the passing of a child.  Some people say “sadiversary” or “remembrance day.”  Personally, I’m not in love with any of these terms and as one author on grief says, “there is just not many words to adequately describe grief.”

An angelversary is not usually a celebration. No one says, “happy anniversary.” In fact, after a few years, no one says anything at all.  But I remember the day like it was yesterday. Just writing these words takes me back to that moment when my life was altered forever.

The night my brother was killed, my husband and I went out to dinner earlier in the evening. We came back home and decided to watch a movie. I let him pick while I went to use the restroom.  I was headed back to him when I heard his cell phone ring. He answered and immediately his eyes sought mine. His face was strained and ashen. “Your mom,” he mouthed. I knew something was wrong in that moment. My heart had already begun to hammer, as if it was preparing for the worst. He hung up the phone and came to me: “Jeff was killed.” After those three words, the rest of the night is a bit blurry. I remember my mother’s tears, pieces of the drive to my parents’ home, and the look on my father’s face.

When a sibling dies you lose a piece of your past, present and future.

This day comes up like clockwork every year. For me, I began to get irritable in March. I wasn’t attuned to why this was right away. I recall that I noticed around my brother’s third year of passing that something was off, and I realized I began to grieve his loss again — but several weeks before the date. Once I figured this out, I understood that I had to take some extra self-care steps and even plan out more alone time. On April 11th, I always spend the day by myself.  I don’t work. I don’t go out. I don’t go to the gravesite. I put on a movie or read a book. This might sound odd, but for me, I actually feel rather peaceful. It’s the days leading up to April 11th that cause me anxiety.

“Grieving is like having broken ribs. On the outside you look fine but with every breath, it hurts.”

Once I lost my brother, I was immersed in a new society of people who all had experienced losses. I find that each person spends the angelversary of their loved one in a different way. For example, my parents find solace at my brother’s gravesite. Some people go to the cemetery to feel closer to their loved one and speak to them. For me, the gravesite is a confirmation of his passing, and I don’t visit it often. I prefer to talk to my brother when I’m alone or through stories with other people. Each person grieves the loss of a loved one and copes with it in their own way.

You probably already have your own ritual for your loved one’s angelversay, but here are some ideas:

1. Write a letter to your loved one.

2. Visit the gravesite (if it feels right for you).

3. Do something you used to enjoy doing together — watch a favorite movie, go to the beach or listen to a song.

4. Share a story with someone about their life.

5. Plant an annual flower, light a candle or place a rock in remembrance

Whatever you choose to do, do it because it feels right for you and not out of guilt.

On April 11th this year, you will find me at home, alone, watching a movie my brother and I used to love as kids, but I reserve the right to change my mind and do something else if that feels right. This is my grief and grief is nothing if not personal.

Wishing you peace, Shannon

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