Try as we might (or as I have), we can’t avoid marking the death anniversaries of loved ones. It’s unavoidable. Perhaps that’s because we need to remember our grief and gauge our progress.
In Acknowledging Our Grief Anniversaries, John Pavlovitz describes the way the pain of grief can assault him on sunny Saturday mornings, bringing back to mind learning that his father had passed.
… Saturday mornings have never been the same for me. They are now a Grief Anniversary; a perpetual, involuntary holiday where my heart marks its injury over and over and over again without me getting a say in the matter.
I used to chide myself for thinking about death anniversaries. Nothing, I told myself, is dramatically different than the day before the anniversary or the day after. It’s just a day to ruminate and obsess.
That attitude only added guilt to my grief.
Though I realized that no one in my family was statistically more likely to be involved in a car accident on June 9th than any other day of the year, I hated it when anyone had to travel on the anniversary of my parents’ death in a car accident. This June 9th will mark twenty years; I’ll still do backflips to avoid traveling on that day.
I also know I’m not the only one that eyes blue-skied September mornings with suspicion. The beautiful weather, instead of lightening my spirit, reminds me how nice weather is a lousy foreteller of fortune.
Cultures and faith groups around the world have traditions focusing on death anniversaries
According to Wikipedia, such observations aren’t only common for the death anniversaries of saints and public figures, but also to commemorate family and loved ones on the anniversary of their death. And if you think about it, many of these traditions not only remember the decedent, but call attention to the family’s progress in dealing with their loss. Looking back, we also acknowledge how far we’ve come.
Death Anniversaries are Part of the Family Story
These traditions have a place in the family story.
For instance, a year ago this week, we lost my father-in-law. I can’t help but think that as we gather close around my mother-in-law, tend to his cemetery plot, and remember him together, he’d be proud. He’d appreciate how his loved ones pulled together and he’d be proud of the relationships that have strengthened despite our loss. He’d applaud our progress.
How has your family dealt with death anniversaries? Do you have cultural or faith traditions that you practice such as visiting your loved one’s resting place or eating their favorite food? How have these observances brought meaning to you? Which ones would you like to pass on to younger generations?