Five ways to support someone during painful anniversaries

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Death makes us uncomfortable.  There is nothing we can do to “fix” the reality of the loss, and this often leaves us without words.  “I want to help, but I just don’t know what to do or say.”  This is something I have heard often from those that surround a grieving person.  I believe that the key is to do something.  People often default to silence or distance.  Both responses are damaging. 


Today, I want to offer five reflections on gestures that have been meaningful in this intermediate stage of grief, when the immediate pain of loss has changed into the longer journey with coping.  In his book, Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes about coping: 

“We live in a time and place where, over and over, when confronted with something unpleasant we pursue not coping but overcoming.  Often we succeed.  Most of humanity has not enjoyed and does not enjoy such luxury.  Death shatters our illusion that we can make do without coping.”


The passage of time has not fixed my loss.  Grief does not go away although it does change.  Rather, I am learning to integrate the absence of Mercy into my life.  The support of community is immensely important in my journey of coping. 


  1. Gifts that say “I remember”.  My dad arrived, unannounced, on my doorstep with flowers “in celebration of Mercy week.”  A friend gave me incense and a candle.  I love the delivery of my favorite almond-milk latte.  One my mantle is a set of 7 ceramic birds; they are a gift from my mother and a reminder that we are, always, a family of 7.   

  2. Give me the space of talk about Mercy.  Earlier this month, I had a business meeting with an old friend.  He began our time together by saying, “Jenny and I always think of you and Luke this time of year and your sadness about Mercy.” 

    Sometimes, people fear that in bringing up the name or the memory of the deceased, they somehow make the situation worse.  In my experience, I am already thinking of Mercy and the chance to talk about her, to say her name, feels meaningful.  Matt’s words were an invitation:  an acknowledgement of Mercy’s life and the reality of her loss.  His invitation offered me the chance to say as much or as little as I wanted.

  3. Send a card/text/voicemail message.  I live far away from some of my favorite people, but I always appreciate when they reach out.  On February 22 of this year, I awakened to an email from one of my favorite professors.  He has also known the grief of losing a child and his message was a gift. 

  4. Babysit my young children.  Over the years, friends and family like Shannon, Natalie, Beth, and others watch my children, giving me space around these anniversaries.  Usually, I don’t know what I want from one of these significant days, but these friends offer me the space to be by myself and be present with my thoughts.  Sometimes, I go to a coffee shop to journal or I take to the local trails to hike.  This year, I went on a thoughtful ramble through Mercy’s cemetery.   

  5. Allow me to be fragile.  I meet February with weariness.  I need larger spaces for quiet.  I find myself going to bed earlier, drinking more tea, and staring out the window.  My energy is lower and I sometimes cancel social plans. 


I might not be like this every February; my grief may look different in the decades to come.  Regardless, I need people to come alongside me with a hug and a compassionate look…people that won’t rush me to feeling better or being happier. 



I want to close with this thought:  it is never too late to provide meaningful care.  Perhaps you weren’t there for someone.  Maybe this was a result of your life moment or circumstance and you wish that things were different.  It is not too late.  People need support and care through the many different moments of grief.  You might have missed the opportunity to be an impactful friend/neighbor/coworker in the past, but it is not too late to begin.  Write a text, buy a latte, offer a hug.