Another question that I get asked a lot, is around anniversaries, and how to cope.
Again, I hate saying this, because it feels like I'm avoiding the question, but you have to do what works for you.
For me, the way I've approached these difficult days have varied over the years.
When he first died, I wanted to do things to honour him so I'd go and see his favourite sports team play, or I went to a place we loved together. I found these very difficult, but did them anyway, because it felt like the right thing to do. I kept asking myself why I felt compelled to do this.
I think part of me wanted and needed to feel connected to him, and wanted to feel him close, but his absence made me very aware he wasn't with me, and I wanted him to be, and while the feeling of trying to do something "we" did, or "he" did, was a lovely way to honour him, it just hurt, like mad.
So I stopped.
I stopped putting pressure on myself. I stopped doing things because other people wanted me to. I stopped seeing my in-laws, I stopped the days feeling painful, and I took a step back to figure out what I needed. His family were toxic, and I was keeping in touch out of some misplaced duty to my husband, but he would have been the first to ditch them, he'd done it many times before with his own family, so actually, there was no duty here anyway.
I missed him all the time, I didn't need a specific day to stand out any more than the rest, so I did something for me. I did a spa break, I relaxed, I spent time with my best friend, we ate, we laughed, I cried, but I mostly felt like the burden of "performing" for everyone else's benefit was done.
I remember the first time of telling our joint friends that I wasn't spending time with my husband's family, and was told by many they felt it was showing disrespect to my husband. This was the point when many of 'our" friendships stopped. Many of them had, and still have good relationships with my in-laws, and it felt that my side wasn't being heard, and that wasn't ok. I had to look after me, and my needs. No one else was there for me, so I had to do that myself.
Every day, while my husband and I were together, I loved him. I cared for him. I wiped his tears when he cried, I held his hand when he was scared, I let him rant at me when he needed to say things out loud. I attended every appointment with him, so he was never alone. I held his hand through every diagnosis, and every time he tried to push me away because he was scared I'd be hurt by this heartbreaking rollercoaster, I stayed, and held his hand a little tighter, and promised him that I'd never let go. I did my best to make him laugh and smile, and I celebrated every small milestone with him, no matter how small. He called me his little Florence Nightingale. I told him it was okay, as I smiled, but was filled with terror inside, he had my total strength behind him, fighting just as hard as he was. I was there.
EVERY SINGLE DAY he needed me, during our lives together. I was there when it mattered, and when it counted.
That is love. That is respect. I don't need to act in a certain way on an anniversary because that's what people expected of me. So no, friends, it's not disrespect. I loved him unconditionally during his life. That is all that matters, and all that ever will.
So, my dear friends, do what YOU need, and you want. I am damn sure like me, you loved your loved ones fully in life. That's what counts.
Helping Others Understand
It can be very hard to see someone you care about struggle with anniversaries, but there's a bigger picture here. Anniversaries, Christmas, New Year, all these big occasions, you're aware of, and perhaps you'll think of your friend more during these times, but there are so many times in the year that will hurt too, and these are the ones you might not think of, Valentine's, anniversaries of death, first date, the birthday of the person whose died, the person left behind, the birthday of children - yes, all of these dates can really hurt when you're having to do them alone.
Throughout the year, the griever is left behind with a calendar of dates that break their heart, dates that no one else remembers or that no one else commemorates anymore. The pain this causes, I can't begin to explain.
Keep talking to them, try to understand what's going on in their world, and just try not to judge, listen to them, and know that they're trying their absolute best to keep going in a world they may feel they no longer belong in, or fit in to.
Just be there, be present, be kind and listen.