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How to Honor a Death Anniversary!

“I didn’t want to share the story with you because I was afraid you’d cry.”

I was talking to an ex-coworker of Art’s. They had reached out to share a memory of him. It made me laugh, and then there was this silence between us. He asked, “Are you OK?”

I said, “Yes, thank you for sharing.”

He said, “I didn’t want to share the story with you because I was afraid I’d make you cry.”

I sighed deeply and said, “Crying about him is a gift. To me, it’s a sign that he mattered. Besides, it’s nice to know that others think of him occasionally.”

Last week was the 13th anniversary of my husband’s death. (You can read the eulogy I wish I had given here.)

Even though it’s been 13 years, having someones share a story with me makes me happy! It reminds me that I am not alone in thinking about him or remembering his love, wisdom, and sense of humor. That is an important feeling.

If you have not experienced loss, honoring a death anniversary will probably make you squirm. Death is usually not part of a cocktail party or office conversation!

Some of the common misbeliefs about acknowledging a death anniversary are:

  1. If I acknowledge it, I will make them cry, which is bad.

  2. They don’t want people to acknowledge it because it will make them sad.

  3. They have forgotten about it. Trust me, they have not forgotten!!

In short, people don’t acknowledge loss because they are afraid. And fear will lie to you to make sure it stays in control.

Here is the truth.

Acknowledging loss is a sweet way to connect. It brings out our humanity and reminds us there is power in acknowledging someone else’s journey.

Yes, it may make them cry, but YOU didn’t make them cry. Their tears are a gift, not something to be afraid of.

Your power has never been in the fixing of someone’s problem. Your power has always been in witnessing someone’s journey.

Here are three ways you can honor a death anniversary. Keep in mind what you are really honoring is what their person meant to you or, if you didn’t know them, you are honoring the strength the bereaved had found by putting one pinky toe in front of the other, especially when they didn’t want to!

  1. Send a card.

By itself, it’s a sweet gesture, but this becomes powerful if you have friends or team members sign it. The card can say many things, such as “We know this day is special to you. We wanted you to know that we care about/love you. Thank you for being a gift to us, even in your grief.”

  1. Ask them About Their Person.

This is one of the sweetest, kindest things you can do to honor an anniversary, especially for the early anniversaries. They may cry. But do NOT grab tissues; just sit with them, honoring their journey and their person. You are HELPING them grieve!

  1. Make a donation.

Donate to a specific charity in the name of the person who died. This might take a little sleuthing if you want it to be meaningful and a surprise. You can drop it into a casual conversation. “OK, I have a random question for you, if you had $10,000 that you had to donate, what charity would you donate to?” Then donate to that charity.

There are a plethora of other easy you can honor a death anniversary. Honoring the early ones will be special to the grieving person. Remember, grief is isolating. It’s isolating because it is a personal loss, and it’s isolating because we, their coworkers and friends, often ignore it, out of a self-centered belief that our talking about their person makes us responsible for their sadness.

Your honoring their person will remind them while the death is personal, they are not alone.

What a gift to give to someone you care for!

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