16 Nov When the Holiday Season Includes the Anniversary of the Death

What makes this so difficult?  Every day we continue to learn who we are without our loved one.  This is especially painful during the holiday season.  Each holiday, special day and the anniversary of the death produce additional memories and grief responses which need to be acknowledged and processed—over and above what we are processing on a daily basis.  And after the day passes it is normal to be physically and emotionally exhausted for a few days or even for a week or more.

The anniversary of the death is a milestone no matter what time of the year it occurs.  However, when this day is part of the holiday mix—well, it can be overwhelming at times.  Typically, as with other special days or a holiday, what you will find is that the anxiety and grief responses that you experience leading up to this day are worse than what you end up experiencing on the actual anniversary date.

Is there a way to reduce the grief stress and anxiety related to this day?  Yes!  You need to have plan for the day—and maybe even a plan for the week before and the week after. Working on a plan is forward thinking.  And forward thinking is healing.  Involve your children in the planning if at all possible.  If the death date falls on an actual holiday date you can incorporate different ideas from the following list with ideas that are shared in the Navigating Holidays & Special Days Blog entry.


  • Take the day off of work.
  • Dinner and a movie alone.
  • Dinner and a movie with family or friends.  Before or after dinner each person can share a special memory.
  • Spend time at the cemetery.
  • Hold a memorial service.  Light a candle.  Share memories.
  • Watch family videos or look at pictures and share the story behind the video or picture.
  • Go to church.
  • Make a donation to your church or favorite charity in honor of your loved one.
  • Plant a tree or bush.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Pamper yourself with a relaxation massage.

It is also important to spend this day with family and friends who give you the freedom to cry and grieve freely.  Said another way, avoid spending the day with difficult people if at all possible.  For example, people who think that you should “just be over this” are not the people that you need to spend your time with.

Further take care of yourself by eating healthy food and hydrating with water.  Drinking plain water is really important because grief work involves crying and sweating—both of which are normal and healing, but dehydrating.  (Dehydration from crying and sweating is another factor that negatively impacts the ability to sleep when we are grieving.)

It is also very important to take the time to remember just how much you have accomplished during this past year without your loved one.  You have worked very hard.  Be proud of yourself.  Sometimes it is helpful to write out a list.  It is also healing to think about what you want to accomplish in the next year.  Give yourself the freedom to dream a little.

Each year the anniversary of the death will be a little different because each year you will be at a different point in your healing.  What you want and need to do on this day each year will most likely change, too.

Today is the 14th anniversary of the death of my husband Donald. It is hard to believe that so much time has gone by—and I still miss him.  I feel like I have two lives.  The one before he died and the one after he died.  And Life is good again—just in a very different way.  But I still make a plan for this day every year.  Today I am working most of the day and tonight is dinner out and maybe a movie—depends on how tired I am…