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Two Positive Ways to Approach a Hard Anniversary

Whether you are reflecting on 9/11 or the anniversary of something that challenged you alone, there are two main directions you can face.

Difficult anniversaries
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The longer we live, the more anniversaries we accumulate. We pray that the majority of our remembered days are celebrations, like anniversaries of when we were married, met precious friends, started or completed parts of our education, did something on our own or the first time or met a goal or milestone.

But of course, there are myriad painful milestones that come with the territory of living a full, engaged life. We remember anniversaries of deaths, of course, but also of financial and personal crises, daunting medical diagnoses, and unwanted endings. 

Our personal anniversaries belong to us alone, plus perhaps an inner circle of others who shared in the experiences. Collectively, though, we carry another set of anniversaries, from the beginnings of cultures and nations, to the beginnings and ends of wars, to the passing years following global tragedies that we wish were the stuff of fiction.

The anniversary of September 11, 2001, is undeniably one of these collective memory moments, changing and evolving as each year unfolds. Twenty-one years after that terrible September day, I am reflecting on our options for how to navigate hard memory days. There are, in my experience, two main directions to face—whether you’re remembering 9/11 or a personal day of memory. 

Lean In
A character in the television show “Gilmore Girls” claimed for himself a “dark day” every year on the anniversary of his father’s death. He would retreat and spend his day alone, to remember and to grieve. I admire this approach to anniversaries—making space for the full range of emotions to emerge as they will and acknowledging and embracing the painful beauty of grief. As Queen Elizabeth II put it just after the 2001 attacks, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

Reach Out
While it’s never a good idea to bottle up emotions, sometimes it is helpful to mark challenging anniversaries by offering yourself an opportunity to intentionally step away from the pain. Think about what the anniversary really means to you. Maybe it means enjoying a favorite pastime you shared with a departed loved one. Maybe it means doing a day of volunteer service to make a wounded world a more peaceful place. Wherever you land, know that you are carrying your memories with you, meeting yourself wherever you are on this particular year following whatever challenge you faced.

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