The “Second Anniversaries”
I often hear grieving individuals talk about the difficulty of entering a new year. For the newly bereaved, it is the first year in which they will live without their loved one physically with them. For the rest, it is yet another year without them. Even though it seems like it should be easier since they’ve done it before, people are often surprised to find it is not.
People expect the first anniversaries – the first birthday without their loved one, the first Mother’s Day, the first Christmas, the first anniversary of their death. They prepare for these and think if they can just get through the first year, it will get better after that. Even their friends and family around them anticipate these will be difficult dates and check in on them.
But the reality of grief and why it is not something people “get over ” is that after the first birthday and first Mother’s Day and first anniversary, there are still the second and third and all the rest of them to get through as well. Every year, not just the first one, will come with challenging dates and triggering occasions filled with the secondary losses that come from any death.
People often don’t prepare for these dates in the same way they anticipated the first ones so when they are so upset by them, they think that there is something wrong with them. They think that they are not as far along in their grief as they are supposed to be or thought they were. But this is a false narrative and their reactions to these “second anniversaries” are normal, valid, and understandable. They can be coping well and moving forward through their grief journey and these can still be difficult dates.
The challenging nature of these dates can be compounded by fewer and fewer people checking in on them on those days as each year goes by. Everyone else seems to be “moving on” while the griever feels stuck.
This is further exacerbated recently as our world continues to move out of the depths of the pandemic. For many who lost someone in the last 3 years, there was something protective about the fact that the rest of the world was also stuck in a lot of ways. There were fewer celebrations and milestones being recognized and time was standing still. Now that people seem to be moving forward again, the grief and loss hits in a new way and feels fresher than it might otherwise.
If you are approaching one of these “second anniversaries” just know that your feelings are expected and you have not backtracked in your grief. Plan to take care of yourself in the same way you did for the first or perhaps even better than you did the first time now that you’ve learned more about what you need. Remember that the love and missing you still feel even years later is because you remain connected to them.
If you are supporting someone who is grieving, try to recognize and acknowledge these important dates no matter how much time has passed. Let them know that they are not alone in remembering their loved one and that even though time has moved forward, you know that their grief still continues and so will your support.