When I think of anniversaries I typically think of things like wedding anniversaries and birthdays. The third type of anniversary is why I am writing this today: a death anniversary.
July 25, 2016, was a death anniversary of my brother Brian. In the past few days, I’ve had a lot of anticipatory anxiety. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I felt like I should know how I was going to cope, but I didn’t. In 2016, 14 years later, I would have thought I would have “mastered” being able to cope with this death anniversary. I didn’t have an effective plan.
Ok, so what did I do to cope? Well, first I asked fellow sibling suicide survivors what they do. Their suggestions varied from going to their favorite restaurant, or go to the gravesite, or do something he would like.
I didn’t do any of these things. I didn’t want to “celebrate” the day he died, but I do want to take the time to care for myself. I had off today and it so happened that my wife did as well. She took care of the kids while I spent the morning at Starbucks. I needed time to think and just relax outside of the chaos of life (having two kids under the age of 5).
I went to my favorite coffee shop and listened to a podcast while coloring an adult coloring book. As a therapist, I often will recommend adult coloring books to my clients. I decided to try it myself. It was relaxing and helped me slow down my breathing (which helps me be calm).
After I finished listening to the podcast (about 30 minutes) I decided to write some thank you notes. I was able to focus on being grateful for the support of my friends and family. It’s hard for me to stay depressed too long when thinking and practicing gratitude. I focused on them rather than on myself.
I spent my morning focusing on personal self-care. Around lunchtime, I went home to spend some time with my wife and our daughters. Later on in the afternoon, I was grateful for a friend who called to see how I was coping. Death anniversaries are never easy.
Simply having this friend call me and then later having a friend send me a simple Facebook message to make sure I was doing okay meant the world to me. It is truly the simple things that helped me through today.
I also had dinner with a growth friend who asked me “how I’m doing with things?” This allowed me the choice to either talk about how I was doing if I wanted to, but he didn’t force me.
A growth friend knows all my “stuff” and still wants to hang out with me. This year I felt more supported than I ever did in the past.
In summary, the things that helped me the most through the death anniversary was taking time for self-care (this will look very different for everyone), showing gratitude through thank you notes, talking with friends (in person and on the phone). For me coping was as simple as getting some coffee, coloring an adult coloring book, writing thank you notes, as well as interacting with my growth friends.
What helped me the most through this death anniversary was knowing that someone else cares and that are willing to enter into my grief. Let’s do this for each other.
I think more needs to be written about how to handle death anniversaries. What did you do that has helped? How can I support you?
I am a therapist and I am in the final process of revising and publishing my memoir called Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope to be released in September 2016.