Anniversaries Of Loss
Almost 200 people lost their lives in the 2009 Victorian bushfires and hundreds more were injured and/or lost their homes, friends and community. Recovering from great loss can be a sad and confusing time for people of all ages.
As the anniversary of the Victorian bushfires approaches many people will find that they re-experience sadness and other emotions relating to this tragedy and the losses they incurred. This tip sheet is about managing an anniversary when you are grieving and offers suggestions about how you can support yourself and your family at this time.
Anniversary grief is defined as strong feelings which return on special days. These feelings can take the grieving person back to the memories of the loss itself and the intense feelings around that time. In some cases the anticipation of an anniversary may be more difficult than the day itself.
Coping with the first anniversary
It is hard to predict how you or your family will feel at this time as everyone's experience is unique. However, research shows that people can:
- Re-experience the deep feelings associated with the event or loss
- Feel like avoiding people and places that are linked to the event
- Feel anxiety and feelings of increased sadness
Although these feelings may be strong, it can help to talk and share your memories and feelings with others, to integrate them into the present.
Marking the day in a way that is meaningful to you
Everyone has different ways in which they express themselves, and find meaning, including:
- Talking or writing
- Doing an activity that supports others
- Using other senses such as touch or visual imagery
- Spending quality time with friends and family
It can help to be aware of both your individual and your family's preferences when working out the best way for you to mark the anniversary of a loss. Below are some ideas and suggestions that may be useful.
- Write a note to your children to mark the day and to acknowledge:
- the challenges they have overcome this year
- the changes they have embraced
- the new steps, both big and small, that they have managed
Thank them in writing for being alongside you and for taking your needs into account at times
- Journal or write down reflections about the year passed and the feelings you have experienced, both recently and throughout the year. Also, consider the changes and achievements that you have experienced
- Write a letter to your departed loved one. Let them know how the year has been for you and how you have coped in their absence. Tell them about the good things and the not so good things and anything that you have left unsaid until now
- Speak with someone you trust who is a good listener. Be clear that you are not asking for comment or advice. Tell them about what the year has been like for you and about your successes as well as your fears. A number of counselling and helpline services are available if you need someone to talk to
- Read some poems or writing that is special to you - this can be anything that offers meaning to you at this time. See the end of this page for a list of reading suggestions that you may find interesting or supportive
This is important if you like physical contact such as a hug, or having someone close to you.
- Hug your children or sit with them at night and tuck them in
- Ask a family member or friend for a hug or to hold your hand when you feel you need it. They may not know how to comfort you without being prompted
- Attend organised community events to be held in your area so that you are also close to others who have been affected by the bushfires. Arrange to go with close family or friends. Be there to support each other
This can either be a period of time spent with others or on your own.
- Attend services or special community events in your area. Go along to special memorial services or community picnics that bring people together
- Walk in the bush or on a favourite track that has significance for you, your family or the person who has died
- Visit a place that means a lot to you and/or your loved one
- Invite close friends and family around for a limited time so that you can share stories about the deceased or the past. Take time to appreciate and thank people for their support
Giving gifts to family members or someone else who has found the year a struggle can be very helpful.
- Give a bunch of flowers to a neighbour
- Pass on something which used to belong to the deceased to your children or a friend. This creates an opportunity to remember and retell stories about loved ones
- Give a simple bracelet or cup to your child, which has the date of the fires or a symbol engraved, to commemorate the day. This important gift can act as a reminder of the loss sustained and the great courage involved in overcoming this loss and dislocation
Acts of service
Acts of service can help us feel like we are doing something for the person who has gone. They often combine both gifts and activities and provide time for reflection, a chance to recall happy times and to consider life moving forward.
- Volunteer in the community or participate in a community event
- Make something special to commemorate the anniversary and to share with others. This could be a cake, a favourite meal or an object (such as needlework or clay) which represents something significant to you and your loved one
- Plant a tree or plant in your garden or park
- Do some seed planting on a regular basis. See the Seeds of Compassion idea in the Callignee, Kournalla, Le Roy, and Traralgon South newsletter
- Buy flowers for the person you have lost and take them to their graveside or a favourite spot. Take time to talk with them or say a prayer. You might also like to release some balloons which can help with the feeling of letting go
Although anniversaries can be a difficult time, they do not necessarily mean a setback in the grieving process. With careful preparation, mindfulness and respect, you and your family can find some relief in marking the occasion in an appropriate way.
Some suggestions to help things go more smoothly:
- Talk with your children or young people around you to help them to work out what fits with them best and respect that we will all have our own way of wanting to mark the day
- Be prepared - generally the day will be easier for you to manage if you have prepared for it. Find out the times of arranged services in your area or invite a few people around in advance. Try to ensure you have any ingredients or materials you need for making or doing things ahead of time
- Work with those around you so that your day is planned to have space for all of you to acknowledge your sadness, in a way that suits you and fulfils your need to honour what you experienced and the deceased
Who can I contact for more information?
You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.
Suggestions for further reading
- When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. New York: Schoken Books, 1981.
- Remembering with Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year of Grieving and Beyond by Elizabeth Levang & Sherokee Ilse Minneapolis, MN: Deaconess Press, 1992.
- The Journey Through Grief : reflections on healing by Alan D. Wolfelt. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press, 1997.
- On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. New York: Scribner, 2005.
- The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, Hertsfordshire, Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996.
- A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, San Francisco, Harper, 2001.
- Companion to Grief: finding consolation when someone you love has died by Patricia Kelley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- Hodgson, H. (2007) Coping with the anniversary reactions that come with grief. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 13 January 2010. http://ezinearticles.com/?Coping-With-the-Anniversary-Reactions-That-Come-With-Grief&id=775983
- Strati, S. (2007) In Black, the performative and transactional objects in death. A fine arts master's thesis from the UNSW
- Gardner, H (1996) Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. Basic Books, Boston, USA
- Chapman, G. (1992) The Five Love Languages. Strand Publishing, Australia
- The Gaelic Prayer. BeyondIndigo. Retrieved 14 January 2010. http://www.beyondindigo.com/articles/article.php/artID/200598
- Health Report Interview, Mal McKissock 2001. Retrieved 22 September 2010. http://www.bereavementcare.com.au/articles/health_report.htm
- Seeds of Compassion in Callignee, Kournalla, Le Roy, and Traralgon South newsletter. Retrieved 18 January 2010. http://callignee.vic.au/assets/document/1262692609-s.o.c_day.pdf
Published: 1 February 2010