Sad About Sept. 11? How to Handle Annual Heartache

Whether you lost someone that day or not, anniversaries like these can trigger emotional pain

The anniversary of a catastrophic loss such as 9/11 can bring up feelings of grief not only about that event itself but of other more personal losses that you may have experienced. The sorrow that comes with the death of someone important to you tends to heal with time, but each anniversary often brings up a resurgence of the sadness and distress of their absence. In fact, all kinds of anniversaries can be painful. In the first year after losing someone, holidays and special occasions without your loved one can be tough. But even as the years go on, the anniversary of a first date of a deceased spouse, or the first day of the school year after losing a child, can remain painful for years. Watching others grieve and feel loss -- as with the anniversary of 9/11 -- can also remind you of personal losses and make you feel fresh grief of your own.

It’s not unusual for an emotional reaction to be triggered a week or two before the anniversary of a loved one’s death -- or another event that reminds you of him or her -- and it can last for several weeks afterwards. You may feel anxiety, have difficulty sleeping, have nightmares, lose your appetite or concentration, feel sadness and have vivid thoughts of the person and possibly of the way he or she died. You may have a strong desire to share your memories and thoughts about your loved one. This kind of mourning is expected and it is very normal. While your sadness will likely lessen over the years, it may not completely go away.

Anticipating your reaction around this kind of anniversary can help you prepare so you’re better able to handle it. Try these suggestions:

Plan a distraction. Participate in activities that bring you joy and engage your mind, like taking a weekend trip to a place you love or spending the day at your favorite museum. Since exercise helps improve mood, you may also want to plan a hike, a walk through some gardens or a bike ride with friends. You want to be with people who will be understanding and supportive.

Talk about it. Many people find relief in talking with others who knew their loved one. Reminiscing is a way of re-experiencing a moment you had with the one you lost, which can bring you pleasure. You can talk about the person he or she was, share happy memories and tell fun stories about things that happened in the past.

Have a memorial ceremony. Doing something in your loved one’s memory -- even something small -- can make you feel more connected to that person and give you the opportunity to be around others who can give you support.

Shut off the television. Try to avoid all the 9/11 coverage as it may bring you further down without any particular benefit.

While distraction can be helpful, it is also valuable to allow yourself some time to mourn. Grieving is a process that helps you to cope with the loss and eventually move on. For normal grief there is no timeline of how long the process takes; but, overall, the intensity of your grief will diminish with time, with some ups and downs along the way. If, however, you find that your grief is either getting worse with time, or is affecting your ability to function -- being able to sleep, eat, concentrate or take pleasure in anything -- you should see a mental health professional. Depression, complicated grief (a form of grief that does not resolve and goes on for years) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are problems associated with significant loss and require professional treatment. Mourning the loss of those we love is an essential part of moving forward in life. If you need help, don’t hesitate to get it because it will make a big difference.

How are you coping with the anniversary of 9/11?Chime in below.

Like This? Read These:
- Gail Caldwell on Surviving Her Best Friend’s Death
- Handling Sadness and Yearning After a Major Loss
- Sharing Memories

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