Death-iversaries: they're a thing

The past few weeks - indeed every January and early February - are some of the most difficult for our family. Just as we begin to recover from the holidays, we are hit with Colleen’s birthday and a few weeks later, the anniversary of her death. Her “death-iversary” is a significant but somber day that we want to recognize, but one that seems weird to “celebrate.” We don’t always know how to react, what to share, what to do. This annual marker coincides with cold weather and post-new year's pledges. We find ourselves with pent-up energy, organizing drawers and closets in a bit of a manic state. We literally can’t help it. Shane opens drawers and when they look messy, immediately needs to fix them, can’t look away. Jessica ordered a label maker and puts labels on everything to feel like things are in order. We get upset when members of our households don’t understand the “new system.” Our home organization compulsion takes over briefly, but it helps us to cope with the recurring sadness this time of year.

We don’t have many friends that we can commiserate with about the death of a sibling at a young age. We feel as though we are in uncharted territory. Are we supposed to be like, “hey can I leave work early to go to the nearest Irish pub because my sister died on this day?” Or “I’m having trouble focusing on anything other than the anniversary of my sister’s death, so I’m just gonna stay in bed, cool?” Or “I’m sorry your remodel is delayed, but I don’t actually care today because my sister died three years ago.” Or “I’d love to join happy hour but I have a conference call with my sisters because this is our sister’s death-iversary... it’s not weird, you’re weird!”  Yet we did begrudgingly get out of bed, we did go to work, we just sort of carried on, but everything felt off, every memory sharper. Maybe we should have just been honest and said those things in our heads, even if it would mean making others uncomfortable.

Death-iversaries are a strange, emotional day. This year, some time has gone by, but the pain is still here, leaving us unsure how to acknowledge the day. We are impressed with family and friends that continue to remember the day that Colleen died and reach out to us. How do they remember? We have a hard enough time with birthdays. These amazing super humans not only remembered a momentous day in our lives and thought to reach out to us, they actually did it with calls, texts, emails, flowers. We are in awe of them and hope that they share their secrets soon (maybe they could take over our birthday calendars, because we’re sure that they’re better at that, too).

We’re far from perfect, but if we were to copy their model-like behavior, we would reach out to friends on their difficult anniversary dates. Or maybe just whenever they are on our minds and we are thinking of them - even if it’s not a death-iversary - that, too, is really nice. We’ve heard people say that celebrating a deceased loved one’s birthday is a more positive date to acknowledge, and some friends did reach out on Colleen’s birthday, a date they may have already been tracking, as opposed to the date of her death. From our perspective, either one is a day that our minds are especially on Colleen, so either date is a good time to hear from friends.

We tried to come up with some things to say next time we remember to be a good friend. We probably can’t avoid our sarcastic humor, so we might say things like:

  • Today must be hard for you, but we could get cheese and drinks to make it feel better?
  • I’m always available if you want to talk about today or even if you need to swear and yell.
  • I’m sorry this day is crappy for you, but do you want bacon?
  • I’m here for you if you want to drink a bottle of wine.
  • We probably would NOT say that heaven gained an angel or that Colleen is looking down on us because that always makes us think that we want her with us instead of up there or wonder what she’s been saying behind our backs, like what's she saying? what did you hear?
  • Or if we decide to take a more tactful route, we’d say something simple, like “thinking of you” or “sending hugs.”
  • Or we might say something simple with a little humor. On Colleen’s birthday, one friend said, “Happy birthday to one hell of a big sister.” It summed up our sister perfectly and made us smile.