Anniversaries by Nate Wagner

posted in: Uncategorized | 9

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.

9 Responses

  1. Laurie Brooks
    | Reply

    My husband by suicide died on August 30, 2010. No one remembers the anniversary but my boys and me, and my husband’s parents and brother. His brother usually posts something on Facebook, but I don’t. I usually just let it go and try to get through the day. My boys and I don’t even discuss it. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not. August is not a great month for us. My older son’s birthday is on Aug. 2nd and he shares a birthday with his father . I still haven’t figured out how to handle that even though it has been almost six years. This year my son turns 18. It has been difficult for me since it is a milestone birthday. I’m not sure how the day will go. Nobody probably remembers that is my husband’s birthday too.

  2. Vicki
    | Reply

    Thank you.

  3. Kathy
    | Reply

    Yes, I think you are right, there could be more conversation on how to handle the death anniversary. My brother, my only sibling, died on new years eve 2014, so the anniversary for our small family is especially magnified. While the rest of the entire world is having a huge party, I am suffocating in my grief. The anxiety the first year was almost unbearable. Where can you hide in peace and quiet and reflection on new years eve? What do you say when friends and coworkers and store clerks wish you a happy new year? Not only on that day, but for the week that follows. I knew well in advance that I needed to have a plan and not sit in the quiet living room as the clock ticked louder each minute toward midnight. As I struggled to find a way to navigate the anniversary, I proposed to our family that we celebrate the holiday week with a new tradition of “doing things” instead of “getting things.” This took the pressure off from having to go to stores and the malls, shopping for Christmas gifts, surrounded by all the painful reminders of the holidays. My brother’s wife and son came to visit us in Florida for the week, so that they wouldn’t be in their home for the anniversary where the memories are so vivid. Anticipating their arrival, I started a list of things to do and added to it each time I thought of something, knowing that I did not want to be sitting in the quiet of my living room paralyzed in the moment leading up to the anniversary. We filled the week with the gift of spending time together – airboat riding, paddle boarding, spa day, etc. On new years eve, we kept the TV off and played board games and BBQ’d at home. And somehow we survived.
    We have already made plans for anniversary number two, with reservations to rent a cottage in the Florida keys, where we will snorkel and dive and swim – and attempt to wash away a little more of the pain of our loss, which never really goes away. I’m not sure where we will all be on the 14 year anniversary, it’s hard to think that far ahead. I think most of all, making and having a plan, for us, has helped with the anniversary.
    I will look forward to the release of your book, there is not much published that addresses sibling suicide. It has been a lonely journey.

  4. Dianna Matzo
    | Reply

    I have only experienced one anniversary since my sister died 5/21/15. I was shocked at how hard the weeks leading up to it were. My therapist told me, others told me, but I thought I had it under control. So, I guess my biggest plan for next year is to have a plan! Thank you to both the writer and the commenters for the suggestions.

  5. Courtney Goff
    | Reply

    I so look forward to reading your book. My little brother (33) and only sibling died by suicide November 1, 2015. I dread the anniversary. I found it very difficult to find resources directed at siblings left behind. I hope to write something one day so the next sister or brother traveling this path has something to help them navigate this painful path. I’m so sorry for your loss. You’re inspiring to us just beginning to travel.

  6. Carol Borrelli
    | Reply

    Great article. I like to write poetry on the anniversary or my brother’s birthday and then publish it on facebook on that day. It is something that I started the last anniversary and it really helped. The poetry was hopeful and uplifting, and helped me to cope and spread awareness.

  7. Sherry
    | Reply

    Any suggestions about what I can do as the friend of a woman whose son died on January 1, 1989 at the age of 22 years old? I met her in the Fall of 2015 and she just told me about this anniversary day. I’d like to be able to help her get through the day, as she told me she usually just stays home feeling sad. She hasn’t even told me yet how he died, as it’s too painful for her. In everyday life, it’s a little hard to pull her out of her shell, but I’d like to do something to help distract her from the awful memories of that day. The loss of a child is a horrid thing, but after nearly 30 years, the horror she relives every year on New Year’s Day has to be very stressful, and she obviously has not been able to move on. I suggested we go to a plant nursery together, or a mall, or something, but so many places are closed that day, I’m coming up empty-handed. In theory, she was open to that. Any other suggestions? Thanks, everyone.

  8. Bonnie Shannon
    | Reply

    This year is 6 years for my spouse that I found hanging in the closet, not from suicide, but AEA at 55 years old and I wouldn’t have known what I was seeing, except for David Carradine and what happened there, although the Police asked “are you sure you didn’t know?”, no, I didn’t, but that bothers me, you see it happened when I was asleep in the house. So much has happened, my loss of my family pet (almost 6 months to the day after), my Mothers murder this month, but for some reason, this year is the hardest. Oh and my birthday is this month also, I have no one and moved so far from where it happened. My Grand-daughter is the only one that knew him and she lives 30 miles north, but I never see her. It hurts this year and I can’t stop crying, how do I get past this?

    • brandylidbeck
      | Reply

      I am so sorry, Bonnie! You have experienced so much traumatic loss. Look for a therapist in your area. If money is an issue, most will work on a sliding scale for people. It is hard to move through this journey alone. Get help.

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