Here are some ways to prepare for dates of significance related to a loved one’s unexpected death.

I vividly remember everything about June 11, 2018.

An early morning flight and a rush from the airport to work by 9:30 a.m. already meant the day would be a long one. I’ve done that many times before, but I can’t tell you those dates.

It is what happened at around 10:30 a.m., though, that made that specific date memorable for heartbreaking reasons.

What was going to be a quick glance at Facebook became a longer one: My stepmother posted that she couldn’t get in touch with her son, my stepbrother. The post was from a few hours prior, so I decided to take action and call him. After I got voicemail, I texted our half-sister something about having him call me when they reached him, if they hadn’t already. I was understandably a bit tired from the morning travels, so this event was a bit agitating. I knew my stepbrother had been struggling again with drug use. I wanted to scold him a little bit for making the family worry like that.

I never really thought to worry.

After a few minutes, my dad called me. That was one of the worst calls of my life. It wasn’t a particularly long one, and right when he started talking I knew what he was about to say.

Fast-forward to nearly four months into the future. On Oct. 1, Sebastien would’ve turned 22 years old. That was a difficult day for not just me but the entire family. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be tough, too. When June 11, 2019 rolls around, that’ll be rough as well.

Losing a friend or loved one unexpectedly — whether it was substance use or an accident — is difficult. The unexpected nature is part of why these deaths sting so much. On important dates such as holidays or anniversaries, the tragic events that took place can reverberate back in one’s mind. The memories undoubtedly surface, and the pain is a little sharper.

There are ways to prepare for dates of significance related to a loved one’s unexpected death. Following these steps for the grief that will resurface can help someone strengthen their relationships with others and their own mental health.

Communicate With People

Sometimes people might be afraid of opening up about the significance of a day. They might feel that reaching out to talk to a friend or loved one will be seen as attention-seeking. Talking about the struggles associated with that day can be too overwhelming for some.

An oft-used coping mechanism when a sorrow-filled anniversary occurs is to keep the pain internal and build up walls. Doing so can cause people to carry the burden of the day on their own. This tactic can be emotionally exhausting and also prevent people from receiving the attention and support that they might truly desire.

Talking about any negative feelings one might feel is important. Taking the step and making a point of talking to a friend or loved one about why the day holds significance can be therapeutic. Not only will communicating relieve some of the weight of the burden but it also allows for a loved one to show support and care, which can bring a sense of warmth and comfort.

Accept the Feelings Rather Than Fighting Them

Some people might try to shut themselves off from feeling any sadness due to the date. Doing so can cause people to shut themselves off from loved ones who are also affected by the day.

In many cases, the pain of an unexpected loss will be felt by more than one person. Anyone who knew the person who died will be suffering through similar sorrow. They could benefit from having someone else who understands the date’s importance to lean on for support. Rejecting the feelings can prevent someone from embracing the opportunity to help their loved ones.

Remember the Good Memories, Not Just the Ones That Hurt

The birthday of a deceased friend or family member — or the anniversary of their death — will be difficult every time. They are difficult because they are reminders of the fact that the person is no longer physically present. They aren’t available to talk with or make plans with. They won’t be around for future milestones: weddings, graduations, births and more.

However, these dates are also opportunities to remember a person’s life, including what made them special. There is potential for recalling cherished memories and sharing those with loved ones. Accepting the painful feelings and talking to people about them is also important on these dates. Dates of remembrance are also for reliving the good moments, too. Having that mixture can help people maintain a healthy emotional balance.

a man in a purple shirt smiling at the camera.
By – Devin Golden
Devin Golden has worked for various print and digital news organizations. Devin's family has been affected by addiction and mental health disorders, which is a large part of why he wants to help others who have either directly or indirectly been affected by these diseases. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.