My mother died March 5, 2015—three years ago. A loved one’s death is a strange anniversary to commemorate, and like everything else within the grief process, each griever acknowledges the death anniversary differently.
March 5 is a date I will never forget. I carry vivid images of that Thursday morning and the three days leading up to it. I don’t need the calendar to read March 5 to recall the events of the day. Those memories are always with me.
The first anniversary of my mother’s death was awkward: Do I go to church? Do I have a mass said for her? Do my father and I do something special to commemorate? If so, what do we do? It was a Saturday and I was probably at my dad’s house. I can’t remember what happened that day. I probably wrote a letter to her in my journal that day. Maybe I went to church.
On the second anniversary, my father had been hospitalized for over a month. I was lucky if I registered that it was March 5 with all that was happening at the time. I wrote a short message to my mother in my journal and had as quiet and thoughtful a day as I could.
This third anniversary, I was restructuring my blog to focus on grief and healing, a fitting commemorative activity I think. It feels like the first year that I have been able to pay attention and think on the day. I intended to post this reflection on her actual anniversary, but I am a bit behind. Oh well.
Every year, one of my friends messages me on March 5. Her first daughter was born on March 5, 2015. It is strange to think that my mother and this little girl share a commonality but they will never meet. The coincidence serves as a reminder to me of the cyclical nature of life: one life moves out to make room for another to enter. There is something poetic about the synchronicity of the events. I appreciate my friend’s note of remembrance, and I always have her daughter on my mind on March 5. I don’t know how long the messages will continue between us, but I will be grateful for them every year that I receive them.
This year my friend’s message read: “Thinking of you on this very hard day.” I thanked her and added, “Truthfully it isn’t a hard day for me.” I wasn’t trying to be dismissive, only trying to do what seems a typical act of grievers: reassuring others that you are okay. Lest she think I was totally heartless, I wrote, “Today is more a day of thoughtful reflection and quiet.”
My mother’s death anniversary has never been a particularly hard day for me. She isn’t any deader on March 5 than she is any other day of the year. I find her birthday (and mine) to be much more emotional because of how habituated I am to our birthday celebrations.
On the anniversary of her death, I prefer to remember her life and our good times together. I also think about how my life has changed since the event. I try to live the day out to the fullest and enjoy myself, because she would have appreciated the life-loving sentiment more than my sadness. The day doesn’t become any better as time passes, I am just used to what the day means in my life and I have created rituals that help honor that meaning for me and for my relationship with my mother.
This is how I approach my mother’s anniversary, and I recognize (as should grief supporters) that for other grievers, the anniversary of their loved one’s death may be more difficult. It is a silent day for grievers; no one publicizes this anniversary as they would a birthday or wedding anniversary. That silence has the potential to cause turmoil because it may be another reminder that the griever is alone in the world.
While I have only been at this anniversary commemoration a few years, here are some suggestions for how grievers can mark the anniversary of their loved one’s death:
- Write a letter or a journal entry to your loved one in which you express your feelings on that day, tell them anything you weren’t able, and share what they have missed in your life since their passing.
- Gather with family or friends to share stories or a toast in honor of your lost loved one.
- Attend a service at your house of worship or light a candle (at home or at a worship space) and say a prayer (formal or informal) in honor of your loved one’s memory.
- Make a donation in your loved one’s name to an organization associated with their cause of death or to their favorite charity.
- Take a few moments to be quiet and reflect on what the day means for you.
Whatever you chose to do on the day, create a ritual that honors the relationship you had with your loved one who has passed. Some grievers may chose not to mark the day at all and that is fine.
If you find the day exceptionally difficult, and your emotions are overwhelming, seek out a counselor who can help you navigate the day.
For grief supporters who want to do something on the anniversary, never underestimate the power of sending a message (via text or email) that reads: “Thinking of your today. Love you.”