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  • Writer's pictureDr Kate Owen

Not So Happy Anniversaries

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

It was almost a year ago when we lost a beloved family member and were surrounded by multiple losses in the same month.

And so it made sense to me why at the start of spring I was feeling unsettled.

However, I have the benefit of knowing about family’s and how family history and experience can influence us - both in a positive and not so positive way.

This got me thinking about how helpful and useful and validating it might be for others to understand about the concept of the “not so happy anniversary”.

Life is full of ups, and downs, times of joy, and times of sadness. Most of these are momentary events that contribute to the rich experience of our existence.

In society we are encouraged to remember and celebrate “happy anniversaries”. Occasions and celebrations that leave an imprint in our memories and bodies of feelings of joy. These are the memories that we look back on that make us smile and we create rituals to remember these times.

This could be your birthday, a wedding, the birth of a child, a proposal, the day you started your business, a graduation, the day you bought a house……anything that is special and momentous for you.

And these are the days that other people also remember. These are the dates that years later you still get phone calls from family and friends, a card in the mail, a text message, or Facebook reminds you with photos, and prompts people to like you and give you a shout out.

What society finds difficult and awkward, is how to acknowledge and validate someone on dates, or times in the year, that are marked with loss, hurt, or pain.

And what is often the case, is that we often do this to ourselves.

In days gone by it was often encouraged to shut down any feelings and “just move on”.

But just as happy events leave an imprint in our mind and body, so do these “not so happy” events.

Any event that is experienced with a high emotional charge will leave a longer lasting memory.

So what does this mean….

  • If you are feeling unsettled and you don’t know why, ask yourself “Does this time of year remind me of something from the past?".

  • Acknowledge that “not so happy anniversary” dates can be a time of mixed emotions. You might feel sad, angry, confused, numb, guilt, or any other feeling. They are all acceptable.

  • Remember that grief is a normal feeling that will often lessen with the passage of time.

  • If the feeling remains highly emotionally charged for you beyond what you can cope with, then seek the help of a friend, family member, or professional.

  • Creating a small ritual that has meaning to you might be helpful. A small gesture to acknowledge the day. And continue to re-create the ritual for as long as it is helpful in the healing process.

  • Give yourself permission to both acknowledge the anniversary and to get through your daily routines and activities.

  • Talk with family members and friends.

  • Take care of yourself.

For those who want to support a friend or family member at the time of a “not so happy anniversary”, some helpful ideas for you…

  • The person knows how awkward it can be to acknowledge the anniversary. They get it! Avoidance of the topic might seem like a helpful idea, but it can amplify feelings of isolation in the grieving process.

  • If you can’t find the right words, then give that person a hug. They will know what it is for.

  • You might say “I know it’s a tough day for you. I am here for you.”

  • Allow the person to have whatever feelings they choose to have, and to also encourage them to get through the day. The healing process is about acknowledging whilst still functioning.

A final reflection…

My passion in my work and writing articles such as this is important to me for two reasons.

Firstly, to offer ideas that are useful, validating, and practical to those who take the time to read the article.

Secondly, that the insights and changes you create from having this information, will ultimately translate to a healthier next generation. As the adults in today’s society develop healthy ways of navigating life, the next generation will have a healthy template of experiences and role models to draw on for themselves.

Who Is Creating your Future?

I hope the answer is you.


Family Therapy Training

If you are a counselling or mental health professional wanting to learn skills to support families at different life cycle stages, head to my training company for upcoming workshops and resources.


Please note that this article is general information. If you or someone you know needs support please contact a health professional.

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