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Bereavement due to suicide

Anniversaries and other special occasions

People who have been bereaved may feel overwhelming grief around the anniversary of the death. They may continue to feel this even many years after the death.

 

Rachel’s mother died 26 years ago but she always remembers the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Rachel’s mother died 26 years ago but she always remembers the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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That was 20, gosh, it was 20, 1981, so 26 years ago. Because I remember I had a sort of a landmark; I was pregnant with my son. And it was, mum died on the 14th of September and there was the memorial service for the 9/11, it was on the 14th of September. And I remember sitting thinking, I think actually that was when I told somebody. I was at work and, we’d been, I think I’d been to a meeting and then at 11, I remember they had a minute’s silence at 11. I just remember because that was 25 years that mum had died. And I just remember going and sitting in my office, because I just thought, you know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know if I’d get upset. And I just thought, “I don’t, I don’t want everybody, you know, sort of staring at me.” So I just sat in my office. I mean I was pregnant at the time, so, you know, I could just say, “I’m just going to go and sit down” and nobody really, you know, cottoned, cottoned on to it. But I remember just thinking that that was quite a landmark. I mean it was literally the day she died and they, you know, they were doing all this 9/11 memorial. But I mean I didn’t even know if my brother, I don’t even think my brother and sisters remembered it, not remembered the date. But one time my sister said, “What date was it that Mum died?” But I just, I suppose, I suppose I always remember the date.

The weeks leading up to the day the person died may be as bad as the day itself. Kavita's brother died in September 2000. She often starts to feel “low” at the end of August.
 

Her brother died exactly a year before 9/11. She is in emotional turmoil from the end of August...

Her brother died exactly a year before 9/11. She is in emotional turmoil from the end of August...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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His birthday would have been 7th November. And obviously, automatically you find yourself in an emotional turmoil.


Hmm.


It’s all very jumbled up. It’s not obvious. You don’t think, “Ok, the day is coming now when I’m going to feel sad.” It’s very automatic, it’s very unconscious if you like, it, it creeps up on you and you find yourself feeling down and you don’t know why and then you realise because …


Hmm.

 

… I often find myself starting to get down and low end of August, September obviously is a bad month because of this, when it happened. The actual day, because it’s connected to 9/11 makes it very strange and I’ve sort of got wrapped up in the 9/11 thing because of this. Because the 9/11 America one happened a year after, exactly a year after my brother’s one. Now my brother loved those twin towers, loved them, New York too and took lots of pictures of them and …


Ah.


… to me there’s this connection and, so the first anniversary was actually the most unusual one in that we were preparing for this overwhelming grief and suddenly this happened, which affected the whole world.


Yes.


You know, such a big even, you know. So it kind of took over a bit. And we got distracted because of that. And it kind of merged and …


Hmm.


… the one and, sort of together type, same thing. It’s very strange.


I can see, it must have had a huge impact on you that day.

Some people marked the anniversaries and the birthdays of those who had died in special ways.
 

On the anniversary of Darren’s death Bob and Lynda sometimes release balloons with a message...

On the anniversary of Darren’s death Bob and Lynda sometimes release balloons with a message...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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I mean we always have a candlelight for him, I light a candle every evening anyway but we, when we go up to the cemetery every week we light a tea light up there, and on his birthday and anniversary more candles are lit, we release balloons on these special occasions, we attach a message to them, and send them off and we’ve had quite a few back from various places, that helps us, you know just sending a message up to him.


Do people pick up the message and then write back to you?


Yes, we’ve had, the very first time we did it was his, well his first anniversary. He, he died on a August bank holiday Monday, which was on August 31st, so the following year we had August bank holiday Monday, and the 31st as two separate days, so we did something special, we had a we had a family and friends picnic day up at the local scout camp site where he spent a lot of time, and we released balloons there. And the very first message we got back was from, was by e-mail, the power of the internet again, because as I’d included my e-mail address, it was from some youngsters who’d just been to the Notting Hill Carnival, and they’d been celebrating the night before and they was staggering down to get some breakfast and they saw this thing float down from above them and they thought, “Oh message.” And they were saddened with, tinged with sadness when they read our message but they sent a very nice e-mail to me.

 

That’s a really nice idea.


So they send the cards back so that I’ve got some of the cards home now and it’s nice when they do, when they do reply to it. But the last two anniversaries, one of Darren’s favourite meals or takeaways was Kebab and chips from his local, from our local fish and chip shop, so the last couple of, well we’ve been out for meals at various places or takeaways, but the last three years we’ve taken, we’ve got the Kebab and chips and taken them up to the cemetery and sat by Darren’s grave on a couple of chairs and sit there sharing with him, if he can’t come to us, we’ll go to him and, we, and that was one of the reasons why we want, I wanted him buried ‘cos we have a stone, ‘cos when you have them cremated there’s no stone, there might be a little plaque but there’s no memorial stone.

 

On Lori’s birthday Amanda and her family and friends had a party at the cemetery. On the...

On Lori’s birthday Amanda and her family and friends had a party at the cemetery. On the...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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I find for me being able to mention his name, is really important, and talk about the funny things, and if there are people out there who are friends maybe of people who, of people who’ve lost their children and whatever, really let them talk, let them laugh, and maybe let them cry as well, but it’s really important that you can talk about them.


Mmm.


That is really important.


And do you find anniversaries or birthdays are the most difficult?


Yes, on his anniversary, or his first birthday we had a very weird party at the cemetery, we took up all his favourite food, which was croissants and different jam, and very strange things, because he ate very strange concoctions, and we sat there and we planted windmills, children’s windmills and they all had messages on them, we lit candles, but that wasn’t very successful because they all blew out, but we all planted these windmills and it looked really good and very funny and I took a photograph of it, and then on the anniversary of his death we had a party and loads of his friends came, and at the time approximately when he died, his girlfriend had come up with this idea which was to have a big firework rocket, so we launched it up into the sky and when it exploded we all cheered, and that was really something, and again Lori would’ve thought it very funny, it would’ve made him laugh and that was good.

People who have been bereaved may find it hard to celebrate occasions such as Christmas because the person who died is not there to celebrate. Felicity recalled their first Christmas without Alice. Brenda also remembered a difficult Christmas without their son. Dolores also said that Christmas is a “horrendous” time. She goes to the cemetery with her son at Christmas, and on her husband’s birthday, and they let off balloons.
 

Christmas without Alice was hard for the family. Felicity filled the house with flowers and...

Christmas without Alice was hard for the family. Felicity filled the house with flowers and...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
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So that was the funeral. It was December 10th, and so we were then faced with Christmas. What do you do? And I said, what was, what was important? We all felt all the time that it was important that we consult with each other about what was appropriate. And certainly we consulted with the boys all the time because they had very strong views about what was right for Alice, and what wasn’t. And I didn’t want to get it wrong. I said “What do we do about Christmas?” And Alex said, “Well no decorations, no tree. But as it kind of came closer I, I felt we couldn’t just do nothing, I said “We’re allowed to have food?” Oh yes that was alright. And then I went round to a friend’s house and they were having a party and they were doing nothing but candles, I thought, “That’s it!” So we filled the house with flowers and candles.
 
We often have strangers to stay at Christmas, as well as the family, that we have this tradition that at a certain point we go round the table and we toast to absent friends, which we did and, and of course we especially talked about Alice then.
 

Brenda’s son died just before Christmas, so the first Christmas and New Year were very difficult....

Brenda’s son died just before Christmas, so the first Christmas and New Year were very difficult....

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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Because it happened just before Christmas it was a very, very, very difficult time, but for the rest of the family we tried to be as strong as we could. The worst possible time, and I would never hide that from anybody, was sitting at the table and having that empty space. That was really bad, it was a really, a really bad time. And I just don’t know what to say to anybody to better that because it happened just before Christmas. We actually didn’t do any cards, we didn’t do any presents to one another, we just couldn’t do it. It was a day that we knew we had to get through whereas it had always been a lovely time. We’d always had lots of friends over, Christmas Day was a big dinner time and listened to the Queen’s speech but we didn’t even do any of that. We tried to do so many different things. We actually didn’t have the traditional Christmas Dinner. We all had our favourite food, which in a strange sort of way quite helped. So there was seven of us round the table and everybody had different food. And one of the things I must say about that was, instead of it being a traditional Christmas Dinner which is just one, probably the turkey and all the roast bits that go with it, because there was seven different meals, it’s rather like being in a restaurant kitchen. So everybody’s dinner was prepared and so you were busy, that’s the way I thought would be good, so whereas my husband had a steak and I think I had a lamb chop, and so on through the family, it was cooked at different times, it was prepared at different times and actually we tried to make quite fun of it. We were trying to say, “Oh this is what they do in the restaurant”.

 

So Christmas came and went. New Year was a very hard time too, but the thing we did, we were with some very close friends and we actually didn’t have the television on or the radio on. It was just another day, we didn’t celebrate at midnight and I truly believe that’s how we got through it, with these friends. It was a lovely evening but we didn’t have the necessity, I felt only in my heart that I was leaving that year that I’d lost my son behind and I was going into a fresh year. I wanted it to be a continuation so that I still now feel that he hasn’t gone in a different year, he’s still with us somewhere. And that really helped my husband, it actually helped our friends who were very close to my son. They were the godparents, and they thought it was really nice so that’s just a tip for somebody.

 

Mothers Day and Fathers Day is another big hurdle and I think that will probably, will be with you. There’s not a lot we can do about that. I’m not a very keen person on that I don’t like, because it happens to be Mothers Day the whole world does it, why not have Mothers Day any day. Just because they say it out there and just because there’s a lot of cards in the shop, I’m not very keen on that. So if you can try and get over that one, that’s only how I dealt with that situation. Of course as yet I haven’t had the anniversary so that’s another hurdle to go but try and make it as a nice, remembering as rather than it being sad. Again try and take the selfishness out of it again. So there are hurdles, there are massive hurdles and there’s no right or wrong from it at all. You have to just do whatever it, everybody again is different, but these are just some of the little tips that I could try and pass on to somebody.


And again, you know, we have Easter, everybody has Easter again, the Easter eggs, the cards, don’t make a big thing about it. Just it’s another day really, just another day, and if you can look on it like that and be thankful that you’re just here for yet another day in your life.

 

Dolores finds anniversaries difficult and she thinks that Christmas is horrendous because it...

Dolores finds anniversaries difficult and she thinks that Christmas is horrendous because it...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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And I think that all feeds into anniversaries, wedding anniversaries, whatever, birthdays, Christmas, like Christmas is horrendous now, absolutely horrendous and I’ve become very aware of how, commercialised Christmas is and how it’s all done on this mummy and daddy and two perfect children, in a perfect house, with everything they want and life’s not like that.

 

But also every special day, every special celebration, like Christmas is coming up, we will go to the cemetery with balloons and we’ll let the balloons off and we’ll send them to daddy, and that has become a big part of my son’s understanding of daddy, because we recently had daddy’s birthday and I had planned to buy the balloons while my son was at nursery, but we had done the cards and everything that morning and we’d gone up to the grave with them and my son literally started to get very upset ‘cause we hadn’t bought daddy his balloons and we had to go to the nearest supermarket and buy one, and that to me is, moving it forwards, giving the child an understanding of, that his daddy was much more than the, the eight weeks he was ill.

 

The weeks before Christmas are difficult weeks for Lucreta. She grieves for her daughter when...

The weeks before Christmas are difficult weeks for Lucreta. She grieves for her daughter when...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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I don’t like Christmas, I don’t like anything to do with families, I’m cocooned in a sense, it’s changed my whole being as a person. So sometimes when people see you they just don’t know where you are at. For example, I couldn’t buy a Christmas card, I couldn’t join the queue in the, in what people take for granted, you join a queue. And while you’re in the queue, waiting for your turn to buy your stuff you hear this one saying, “Oh I don’t know what I have to buy for this one, I’m going to buy this, perhaps they won’t like it.” And guess what, you are “dying” in the queue.


Because you’re missing your daughter?


Yes. And I can’t, I don’t know what Christmas is. And so I stopped buying cards, and buying things like that, and people won’t understand, they think you’re unsociable, think you, you’re mean perhaps, but it’s where you’re at.


Mm.


And you have to explain, “Oh I can’t do this because it causes me…”, and so sometimes before December I’ve already start on my down bit, so when come December I’m fine.


You’ve already started on your down bit?


Yeah, I go down.


Down?


Yeah down, sorry. I go down, I get a bit low, so if somebody triggered me off with something family, I start grieving and come Christmas I’m fine. So, but the, anything to do with families I’m just, I’m just no good anymore with families, I really have a problem with coping with that and being left out and missing, am missing her childhood, missing on you know, feeling guilty that she isn’t there, she didn’t come in with her boyfriend, she’s not the teenager I’m leaving the light on to come in, we could be friends going travelling and she’s my only, she was my only daughter. So it’s a big big loss. Your relationship with your son sometimes are different, they’re just not girly girly, and quite rightly, you can’t expect them to be girly girly, but he’s a nice person and a nice son you know. So it’s so different, it’s just, suicide has so many branches.


It still invades your life.


Ah, doesn’t it just. It’s, that’s the word, it’s still, and it will take you to your grave because you can’t just dismiss not having that child. But you can, with the blessing of Almighty God you can find a way…

Susan finds all anniversaries and birthdays difficult. She has decided to do something special on these days instead of sitting at home crying. She has been away to places like Venice. Others also said that they needed to keep busy at times like Christmas. Linda’s family also went away for Christmas the first two years after their daughter died. They did not feel it was right to celebrate at home as usual. However, this year they decided to stay at home.
 
Some people said that anniversaries and special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas become less painful as the years pass.
 

Alex says that the anniversary of his daughter’s death is more difficult than birthdays, but as...

Alex says that the anniversary of his daughter’s death is more difficult than birthdays, but as...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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I think in general the anniversary of her death has been more difficult than her birthdays. The first one in particular, there was definitely something one felt that needed to be marked. There is also no doubt that with the passage of time, it’s now two and a half years since she died, that these things become easier, I mean time does change these things fortunately, even though it’s very hard to believe at the time, and soon afterwards that that would be the case. It changes the nature of grieving, the pain is much less sharp, I think as time passes, but beyond that, no I don’t think there is anything much to say. I think the, these milestones, they are poignant moments; they bring memories back but, as I say they become less painful with each passing year.
At first, every Friday was bad for Dave because his son killed himself on a Friday. Now Friday is just another day but Christmas is still difficult because other people expect him to cope better than he does.
 
Nina has always been sad at Christmas, but this year, seven years after Joe’s death, she felt a “Christmas feeling” in her stomach for the first time. Lynne no longer feels especially sad at Christmas time or on the anniversary of her mother’s death in 1981, but she misses her at important events such as weddings and when she graduated and got her PhD.

Last reviewed July 2017.

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