“The soul would have no rainbows if the eyes had no tears” This is the inscription on a coffee cup my mother gave me on Mother’s Day, one year before she took her last breath on May 22, 2006. It is simple yet complex, representing the realities of loss in our human lives. Whether it is loss of a job or a loved one or something else, both tear on the heart strings. My mother had terminal cancer at the time that had metastasized in her lungs. Still, she found strength to give from her heart.

July 13, 2017 marked the one year anniversary when my sweet sister Susan, 18 months older than me, took her last breath at age 54. She was so full of life, passionate about her family, and tirelessly focused on her many creative musings– whether cooking, painting, designing, or making crafts. This anniversary was one of those days that I had grand plans of celebrating the amazing person she was with my two children, things like going to eat her favorite kind of food and listening to live music. The reality is that Thursday was much tougher emotionally than I imagined it would be. While I felt stronger and was able to survive mom’s angel anniversary by carrying out many ways to honor her, this one with Susan as an angel was much tougher and surprised me in some ways, and in other ways not. So, what was different? Susan was taken at a young age of 54 following emergency surgery. We only had days to honor her and say goodbye. My mother was diagnosed and passed away three years later. We had a long time to say goodbye and prepare. That was a gift to our family. Some of you have experienced loved ones being taken suddenly, without any notice or warning. Every story is different, yet we each have a choice each day on how we spend our time and what we do to really know our loved ones and their stories.

What are angel anniversaries? It is the name that my sister Carol has come up with to mark the day our loved ones took their last breath, although her version is Angelversary. Either spelling feels like such a fitting name to me. The words carry such a different weight than “the day someone died”. And words make such a difference in how we each experience life. How do you want to remember your loved ones? I choose the honoring, positive words of angel anniversary.

I have probably had more practice than some and not as much as others in loosing loved ones. Regardless of how much or little, when it does happen, it cuts deeply in your heart and grief sets in, sometimes forever. Your new normal is forever changed. Life does not ever get better, it is just different. The first year is the toughest as you move through your loved ones’ birthday, holidays, and other special days. Here is some advice on tips for surviving these angel anniversaries with grace and love:

  • Do you know favorite rituals or favorite things of the people you love? Favorite food, color, plant or flower? If not, now is a great time to start learning more
  • As you prepare for the angel anniversary, be flexible on plans and gentle with yourself on how you feel, as you may prefer to stay at home and be alone
  • Is silence what you are after or a louder space? Music is very healing in many ways, play your loved one’s favorite songs or go hear live music
  • Location is special- did your loved one have a favorite place? A museum or a park?
  • Regardless of your plans, be wherever you are on these days, without judgement or regret, as that is likely how your loved one would want you to be, let go of the many “shoulds” that you may carry in your mind