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Bereavement due to traumatic death

Anniversaries and other special occasions

Many people bereaved through a traumatic death feel overwhelming grief around the anniversary of the death. This may continue for many years. But people respond to traumatic grief in many different ways; and some people are resilient and recover relatively quickly.
 
After Stephen’s brother died a particular day and a particular time each week was difficult. For at least a year, Stephen remembered that his brother had died on that day of the week at a quarter past one in the morning.
 
At first, the 15th day of every month was bad for Dolores because her son, Tom, died on the 15th September 2006. Two years later, the 15th of the month became just another day without special significance for Dolores.
 
Although particular days of the week, or particular days of the month may become less painful, the anniversary of the death was almost always a sad day for people. Pat said that the anniversary of her son’s death is very hard.
 
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A lovely wooden seat was placed by a lake in memory of Pat’s son Matthew. Pat goes there on the...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
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So many people say to me, “life has to go on, we have to carry on” But if things have to change they have to change. And I think that, that, that people should take courage from their own, what they, they feel convinced they need to do and to do it. And when it comes to things like anniversaries, and they are hard, they are very hard, so we have all sorts of anniversaries. We have Christmases where the family get, any occasion where the family used to get together, and, and then you have, have the anniversary of the death. My, my son has, has a lovely bench, a seat, a lovely crafted seat, wooden seat by a lake in the place where he spent a lot of time. And that is a memorial to him, in a place that he loved to be. And I go there on some occasions, and I went there on the anniversary of his death and on his birthday and we gathered there on his birthday and had a picnic and it’s a lovely spot. And that is a good thing I think.
Birthdays, Christmas and New Year can be very painful too. Michael said that Christmas was sad time because then he wanted all the family round him and Lewis’s place at the table was empty. He and his wife always go out for a meal on Lewis’s birthday and on the anniversary of his death.
 
The time around an anniversary can be hard too. Alison said that the build up to these anniversaries, especially the week or two before, was horrendous, but the actual day was fine.  
 

Christmas is always a difficult time for Susanna, partly because her brother’s funeral was on...

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You have to be very careful about things like Christmas because Christmas, well my brother’s birthday was November 5th so that’s a very sad time and in fact we flew back with him on 5th November. And Christmas we find very difficult because not only did he have his funeral on 23rd December but also you know there’s always one person missing and New Year, you know Auld Lang, Auld Lang Syne, it’s all about you know, being with family and friends, but also the people who aren’t there, so those are very difficult times, and people aren’t, I mean in general the population is celebrating Christmas and why shouldn’t they, and they’re having a very jolly time but it’s always a very poignant time. I couldn’t go along to office Christmas do’s and things like that because I just, and also you have to be very careful to stay away from alcohol because you’re in such a state that just a few glasses will tip you into kind of blubbering oblivion, it does all sorts of other things that you need to, you just have to be incredibly, you’re very, very fragile, and a lot of people don’t realise. You know they’ll say, “Oh you know it happened six months ago.” And you’re still you know in the most incredible state, but people, but you have to hide it, and people expect, because they’re, a lot of work colleagues will say for example, “Oh well you know, my Mum and my Grandmother died,” or something like that, “and it was a bit sad, but you know you get over it,” sort of thing. And I think a lot of people didn’t, when, and I would be one of them that were completely unprepared for how long it takes you to get back to normal.
 
Do you ever get back to…
 
Well no you don’t. You won’t really, but so that you can you can concentrate enough to function as a working individual. That takes quite a long time. But no, you never get back to normal, you never get back to where you were on, I’ll never get back to where I was on the 11th October 2002. 
 

Since her daughter died Cynthia wants to have nothing to do with Christmas. On the anniversary of...

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Age at interview: 64
Sex: Female
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So, as you can imagine Christmas that year waiting for information and the first Christmas without my daughter, was sheer hell, and I have nothing at all to do with Christmas now. I completely ignore it, I don’t want to know about it, and friends have been very supportive and they send me Christmas cards saying, “Happy Shortest Day”, so that there’s no mention of Christmas in the Christmas card.
 
Oh.
 
Which is nice of them. So then the inquest was at the end of January that year. And it was appalling, it was appalling.
 
And anniversaries, you say Christmas is terrible, you don’t want to…
 
I never have anything to do with Christmas, no I don’t want it.
 
What about, I know other anniversaries like her birthday must be difficult as well?
 
Yes it is, but that’s when I go to see the tree at the college, and that’s doing really well, it’s a silver birch tree and it’s really big now and I occasionally see rabbits there as well which is important because we did have pet rabbits and so, it feels like her sort of place, and so now when it’s her birthday I go to the tree, yes. And I always do something to connect with her on the anniversary of her death. Sometimes I go to the tree, or sometimes there might be something else that I can go to, for example, one of the RoadPeace supporters is a professional musician who occasionally organises concerts for us, fundraising concerts for us, and this year, entirely coincidentally, nothing to do with me, he didn’t even know the date of my daughters death, but this year the concert was on the anniversary of her death, so that was what I did this year, go to the concert.
 
Mm, how nice.
 
And think about her, yes. 
 
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Martin used to love Christmas with his wife, Steph. He doesn't feel celebratory now. Last year he...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Male
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And you said Christmas is particularly difficult?
 
Ah.
 
 ‘Cos you miss Steph?
 
Yes, this is my third one now on my own, and it just doesn’t get any easier. There’s no fun in it anymore, it used to be a special time of year, I used to love Christmas with her.
 
Do you get together with your wider family?
 
I only have a couple of sisters to be honest with you, I didn’t last year. I actually took my daughter to Spain for four days, on, we went on Boxing Day night which was quite selfish of me because that was for me, because I just wanted to get away, I couldn’t bear being in this house.
 
Was it good getting away?
 
Yes, yes. We had a good time, we enjoyed it. Yes. It was a surreal situation on Boxing Day night, middle of the night trying to catch the night, “What am I doing here,” you know? Catching a night flight to Spain on Boxing Day night, this shouldn’t be happening, but I was glad we did it, but I ‘m not looking to Christmas this year Alison, it’s, I don’t know it seems to be just as hard this year as it was for the first the first year.
 
I’m sorry.
 
It’s just that you’re there on your own watching her open her presents, that’s the hardest thing that, you just want Steph to be here watching, it’s just difficult.
Michelle’s mother was murdered in 2005. She said that all anniversaries are very difficult, particularly Mother’s day.
 

Anniversaries are hard for Michelle. It helps her to do something positive - she leaves flowers...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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Do you want to say anything about anniversaries?
 
Anniversaries are very, very hard; they’re one of those things that you can’t escape. Every year you’ve got several anniversaries, you’ve got Christmas, you’ve got birthday, you’ve got, well I have Mother’s Day, and then you’ve got the anniversary of when it happened, they loom over you. As they get closer you can you can feel this, it’s very oppressive feeling, its, it’s that, it takes you to a dark place to be honest. It is, it sets you back. But I think what, what helps is to try and do something positive, like I’ll take lots of flowers to the cemetery and I’ll make it really nice. I always light candles and I speak to my Mum and I’ll say happy birthday or happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll write something to her. I think you need to again have some sort of connection with the one that you’ve lost, and if you want to cry a lot then that’s fine, let it out. It, you know, just because a year's passed, two years, three years, four years, whatever it may be. You don’t have to be all cleared up and…
 
…not cry anymore. I think you could cry for the rest of your life if you need to you know? Not every day, but on and off there’s going to be triggers, and they are going to make you go back and visit a dark place. But again you will come out, you will come out of it, and somehow you’ll see the light, I don’t know, you do somehow come through it.
 
How do you view the future now?
 
One day at a time.
 
Yes.
 
One day at a time. I think you feel broken in pieces, but you somehow do, you do carry on. You just have to I guess.
 
People bereaved many years ago said that anniversaries and special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas become gradually less painful. Patsy said that seeing the graves of other, younger children, in the cemetery helped her to gain perspective on her son’s death.
 

Patsy said that she came to terms with her son’s death very quickly. She wept at Christmas the...

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
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Are certain times more difficult like the anniversary of your son’s birthday or Christmas?
 
No, it’s no more difficult now, no not now. Initially the first year, yes I wept at Christmas when he wasn’t there but after that I would think about him but I would think about him differently, like I said I came to terms with my son’s death very quickly, knowing that first of all he’s dead and that’s where we’re all going and I think that was my main thing, that we are all going to die there’s nowhere when we came out of the womb that said you would live until you were ten. At the bottom of my son’s grave there’s a child of eight and every time I go and see him, things are put into perspective and nobody murdered him, he got caught under his grandmother’s brand new wheel chair, playing as a child of eight, went under there for some reason, got caught and suffocated and died. Can you think of the trauma that grandmother went through? You know and so he is lying at the bottom of my son. Death is a fellow, is a fellow partner really in our lives, there’s life and there’s death and so once you come to terms that we’re all going to die, there’s nothing says we have to live up till we are 90 and there’re lots of babies in the cemetery as well, and they didn’t ask to be dead, you know what I’m saying, but they’re dead and that’s something I really believe we all need to come to terms with, it’s a part of life. 
 

Years ago Marcus found the anniversary of his fiancée's death heartbreaking. Now he goes to the...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
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It’ll soon be the anniversary of your fiancée’s death, are anniversaries particular difficult times?
 
Yes. I find the build up to the anniversary which is the 29th of April, it tends to start building round about now, and it gets more intense as it gets nearer and nearer. Many years ago, it used to be so difficult it was heart breaking. Whereas I think at the moment it’s more uplifting for me to be able to celebrate it and her life, rather than go in a commiserating sort of way, and morbid sort of way. Now I go, I wouldn’t say I go hoppity skippity down the road, but I go in, in a much more positive frame of mind to lay my flowers, have my few words and then leave.
 
Where as many years ago, I found it almost impossible to be there.
 
That’s the cemetery?
 
Yes. Whereas now I go quite easily, and lay my flowers and say whatever I have to say and come away.
 
And I do that at the end of April and if I’m in London and am able to go then I’ll go when, when I can. But I always go on the 29th of April and Christmas Eve.

Last reviewed October 2015.

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