The day your baby died will be forever imprinted on your heart. And over the years to come, you’ll face anniversaries of this day which may be emotionally difficult. But if you are new to your grief, you may not know how to cope with the anniversary of the loss of your baby. All you know is that each day takes you further from your time with your baby – and the thought of passing this milestone feels overwhelming. How has so much time passed? How have you survived this long without your baby? Will everyone else forget your baby now? And will the anniversary day be as terrible as you imagine?
If any of these feelings resonate with you, know that you are not alone. Scientific studies on grief have found that anniversaries are likely to not only intensify your emotions but also increase health risks in the week leading up to the anniversary.
But there is some hope. While no plan could ever spare you from the pain of your loss – taking control where possible may help ease some measure of your suffering.
Here are eight simple steps you can take to prepare emotionally and physically for this day.
1. Prepare for intense emotions leading up to the anniversary date.
Anniversaries are often extra emotional. But many bereaved parents say that the days leading up to the anniversary are as hard, or even harder than the day itself. Sometimes the anniversary itself relieves the dread a bereaved parent had been experiencing in the days prior. As you schedule the days and weeks leading up to the anniversary, make some extra space for intensified grief. And give yourself a lot of grace if you feel like you’re taking steps backward in your grief. I promise you aren’t.
2. Feel what you need to feel without judgment, comparison, or invalidation.
There is no wrong way to feel about your baby’s anniversary. You may find that you are thankful for the opportunity to talk about and honor your baby with your loved ones. You may feel a sense of peace as you take intentional time to focus on your baby. Or you could feel a deep dread, as though your baby were dying all over again. Whatever you feel – recognize that your emotions help you know what you need to grieve. They exist to serve you and protect you. And no emotion is wrong. If you need help sorting through your feelings, you may find working with a licensed therapist beneficial.
3. Make a plan.
The days leading up to the anniversary date may be complicated, but you can use that time to plan how you will spend the day. Creating a schedule gives you back a measure of control, which is one tool to help you alleviate some of the trauma response that you may be feeling that day. And being intentional about the day helps curb the likelihood of disappointment in how the day plays out. Think of it as you would any other important day, such as your birthday: Give yourself permission to express what you want and need to others, then actively plan to meet those desires. While an anniversary is not a celebration, it is a significant milestone that recognizes the impact of the life of a child you love. There is no wrong way to spend the day – just do what you can to meet your own needs that day.
4. Be okay with canceling or changing your plans.
Wait, you may be thinking. Didn’t you just say to make a plan? Yes. The purpose of the plan, though, is to put you in control. To retain your sense of control that day, you need to feel free to adjust that schedule however you need according to your mental, emotional, and physical energy that day. (Or even that hour.)
Maybe a gathering with friends and family sounded perfect a few weeks ago – but on the anniversary date, your head is throbbing, your body feels like it’s made of wood, and the last thing you feel like is to be around others. That’s okay. This is your day . . . you get to call the shots. Even if those shots come at the last minute.
5. Prepare for triggers.
By this time in your grief, you are probably well acquainted with grief triggers – unwanted, and often unexpected, moments of intense grief. Trauma expert and author Dr. Bessel van der Kolk explains triggers this way: “When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. . . . they may not be aware that they are re-experiencing and reenacting the past — they are just furious, terrified, enraged, ashamed, or frozenBessel van der Kolk M.D., The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, September 8, 2015..”
This kind of trauma response is to be expected with the anniversary of the loss of your baby – but there are a few grounding techniques you can use to help you cope. Breathing exercises help bring your mind back to the present and calm your biological trauma response. Yoga and meditation have proven to be enormously beneficial both after a loss, as well as during pregnancy after loss. Employing all your senses can also help you bring you back from the memories of your traumatic loss. Practice some grounding exercises before you are triggered. That way you can find what technique you are most comfortable with . . . and so that it will come naturally to you when you’re triggered. (You can find more comprehensive help on navigating triggers in the book, Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss*.)
6. Focus on your baby.
This may go without saying – but one way to cope with this day is to make it a day of remembrance of your child. You may choose a private time of remembrance – perhaps looking at their photos or bringing flowers to their gravesite – or you could include others, such as doing random acts of kindness for others. (You can find more ideas of ways you can honor your baby here.)
Honoring your child’s life, however brief, is one way you can continue your bonds and parent your baby. While this is not the kind of parenting you ever would have chosen, you are still your baby’s mom . . . and you get to act like it.
7. Include your community.
While grief is highly personal, a key aspect of healing is to grieve within a supportive community. Grief expert Dennis Klauss, Ph.D., says of bereaved parents: “Their dead children were an important inner reality to the parents, but an important element in the self-help process was that they worked hard to make the reality they felt so strongly within themselves into a social reality within the group, and within their extended families and other social networksNigel P. Field & Charles Filanosky (2009) Continuing Bonds, Risk Factors for Complicated Grief, and Adjustment to Bereavement, Death Studies, 34:1, 1-29, DOI: 10.1080/07481180903372269, … Continue reading.” You see, your baby is not just real to you. Your baby is real, period. Allowing others to participate in grief rituals, such as memorializing the anniversary, helps bring your inner reality to your loved ones.
Some ways to include your community are to host a memorial event (such as a flower release), gather at the graveside, raise funds for a meaningful organization in honor of your baby, and share your baby’s story on a blog or social media.
8. Get the support you need.
While your loved ones can be a wonderful source of loving support, there are times that you need more comfort than what they can give. To get support from those who understand child loss, consider joining an online support group for bereaved parents, such as our PALS support groups. Local, in-person support groups can also be a helpful, tangible source of companionship, guidance, and validation. Last, professional support by a licensed mental health clinician can be invaluable as your process your emotions and trauma surrounding this day.
Coping with the anniversary of the loss of your baby is never easy. But with the right tools and a little preparation, it is possible to not only survive the day . . . but also turn a difficult anniversary into a day of meaningful remembrance.
- 11 Ways to Honor Your Baby who Died on their Loss Anniversary
- Parenting After Loss: Making Space for Both Babies
- How to cope with the death of your baby
- Branded, Marked, and Tattooed: Remembering my Babies who Died with a Memorial Tattoo
*This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using this link, you also support PALS without it costing anything extra for you — a total win-win!
|↑1||Bessel van der Kolk M.D., The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, September 8, 2015.|
|↑2||Nigel P. Field & Charles Filanosky (2009) Continuing Bonds, Risk Factors for Complicated Grief, and Adjustment to Bereavement, Death Studies, 34:1, 1-29, DOI: 10.1080/07481180903372269, https://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080%2F07481180903372269|