How to cope with landmark days while you’re grieving

Earlier this year, the Queen marked the first anniversary of Prince Philip’s death. The royal couple had been married for 73 years when Philip died of natural causes on 9 April 2021, leaving behind four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

While grieving is different for everyone, the first anniversary after the death of a loved one – or any significant landmark date, such as a birthday, wedding anniversary or Christmas – can be difficult to face.

Read: What stage of grief are you in?

For some people, the day brings back painful memories, while for others, it’s a reminder that the loss is still felt so keenly.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. (Bruce Adams/PA)

There’s no right or wrong approach to landmark days and anniversaries after a loved one has passed. Whatever you’re feeling is absolutely fine, no matter how long it’s been since someone you loved has died.

Here, experts offer their advice for anyone approaching a significant date following the death of a loved one.

Don’t suppress your feelings

Woman feeling upset sitting on sofa

“When the day occurs, that is only truly when you will know how you feel,” says senior accredited integrative therapist Dee Johnson.

“Grief is transient, it’s an emotional roller coaster – try to accept that it’s okay to feel angry, heartbroken, anxious or numb. Don’t pretend you’re okay if you’re not. Be open. Our tears are a symbol of our love, and why would we want to deny that?”

Therapeutic counsellor Indira Chima says to remember that processing the death of a loved one takes time: “Even if you’re getting on with your life the best you can, it’s normal to regress at the time of the anniversary of their death, particularly the first anniversary.”

Read: Sir Tom Jones on getting through grief

It’s good to talk
While those in mourning may be tempted to withdraw as the day approaches, it can help to share your feelings.

“Talk to friends, loved ones of the deceased, or a counsellor – keep the connections going,” says Ms Johnson. “Tell people it’s an important day for you. They may not remember the exact date and you may feel very sensitive and hurt by that, experiencing it as a rejection.”

Choose how you want to spend the day

“Take time out of your diary on the day and make it easy for you to step away from work and other commitments if you need,” Ms Chima advises. “Think about how you would like to spend the day and who you want to have around you. Perhaps you would prefer to be on your own.”

Or you might like to be surrounded by family and friends. Do what you think will make you feel better on the day. It’s your loss, your grief, there’s no rule book.

Create a remembrance ritual

Woman at the cemetery puts a candle on a grave

Some people find it helpful to create a special remembrance ritual in honour of their friend or relative.

It can be beneficial to proactively set aside time to connect with your feelings of loss and memories of your loved one. Actively scheduling in some time and space for reflection will often put your mind at rest, and give some structure to challenging days.

If family are gathered, you can mark the occasion together, Ms Chima suggests: “Lighting a candle or talking about the person, perhaps with people who knew them, is a way of keeping their memory alive, or hanging a personalised Christmas bauble on the tree – these are all helpful things you can do.”

Read: The five stages of grief

Be kind to yourself

 Man Grieving at Graveside

Self-compassion is important at any stage of grief, and particularly on landmark days. There is no set timeline or fixed process, rather people simply start to interweave the sense of loss into the fabric of their lives.

Don’t try to fast-forward through the important healing process, giving yourself permission to feel the way you feel for as long as you need to recover is important.

Ask for help if you need it

Sad couple comforting each other sitting on a couch in the living room at home

Even if you choose to spend the landmark day alone, you may want to seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed at any time.

– With PA

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.