Written by Clara Hinton
We learn from little up to mark special dates on our calendars. We write those dates in our journals. And, we anticipate several holidays each year. We love to celebrate joyful anniversaries! Our culture promotes this tradition of making note of special days and taking time away from our daily routine in order to observe anniversary dates.
When a child dies, there often is an entirely new slant on the way we view special anniversaries such as birthdays, a baby’s due date, family vacations, or other significant days. Often, these anniversary days that were once anticipated with such joy have now become a source of dread and fear. The question is asked, “How will I survive the day?” An ominous feeling overcomes a parent as the anniversary day approaches.
How can a parent survive anniversary days when a child has died? Begin by telling someone about your fears. Don’t try to face the day alone. Remind yourself that many times the build-up to the dreaded anniversary day is most often worse than the actual day.
Be aware of your needs, and take time to address those needs. Do you need time alone to visit the gravesite? Would it help to invite a few close friends to your home to reminisce good times shared with your child? Do you want to “do something” in order to give you a feeling of validating your grief on this anniversary day? Many have found that planting a flower, releasing a balloon, or reading a letter at the gravesite that you’ve written has tremendous healing power.
Be sure to pay special attention to your physical, as well as emotional, needs as the anniversary day approaches. Get extra rest. Stress and anxiety deplete the body of energy and tax every one of the body’s resources. Eat nutritious meals, especially paying close attention to food that will aid you in maintaining a balanced diet. This is not a time to fill yourself with junk foods that have little to no nutritious value. Be sure to get ample exercise each day. Walking will get you outside of the house and will help your cardiovascular system which, in turn, will improve your overall health. Physical activity will also release chemicals that will help to improve your emotional health during times of stress, too.
Always be sure to drink adequate fluids every day, especially water. It is vitally important to keep your body hydrated. Staying hydrated helps you to stay mentally alert and physically healthy. Good self-care is not selfish. Rather, taking care of yourself is essential.
Create new memories and new traditions for anniversary dates. Trying to keep everything the same following the death of a child is an impossible and unrealistic task. When your child died, all of life changed dramatically. Try doing something different to help you get through the anniversary day. If you always ate dinner at a favorite restaurant on your child’s birthday, then order take-out food, and eat dinner in or find a new favorite restaurant. Choose something that will be healing and will still validate your grief and loss. Try to honor the day with positive memories of your times with your child. In the case of early pregnancy loss, you can observe the day by recalling those precious few moments you had when your dreams were being realized.
Above all else, remember that there is no right or wrong way to survive anniversaries now that your child has died. When you get through the day, you will feel relieved as you note that you have survived. A new milestone in your grief work has been reached.