An internet search on ‘body remembered anniversary’ results in thousands of sites describing how people write about mentally forgetting the date of a loved-one’s death, but how their body recalls the date with discomfort. This emotional bodily response is called an “Anniversary Grief Reaction.” The intensity may be so strong it is as though reliving the loss all over again. For that day, or even days before and after, a person grieves again, feeling as if there is no comfort.
At some funerals, Scripture from Isaiah intended to console the bereaved with hopeful words depicting the new state of the departed are read, “…and the former things shall not be in remembrance, and they shall not come upon the heart.”*1 But for the living left behind, this may not be the reality of how a person feels — then or later.
The early church recognized the importance of addressing peoples’ need for recurring consolation with the Omnium fidelium defunctorum memoria: All Souls Day. This day, which at first regressed into prayers with indulgences for those in purgatory, eventually evolved into what we observe today as the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.
The triduum of Allhallowstide — All Hallows Eve, All Hallowmas or All Saints Day, and, All Souls Day — is a season for remembering, honoring, and praying for our loved ones who have died, and to be comforted in the company of others sharing in the liturgy.
On anniversary dates when you find yourself alone, in addition to readings and prayers, try assuming a position of supplication as a way to relieve the physical feelings. Bow your head, and either clasp your hands or turn them with palms heavenward. Or, hold a picture of the person you are remembering near your heart. Kneeling may bring ease as well. These prayerful postures can instill a sense of communion with the holy and those gone before us.
“Nor is the bond of Christian love broken by death…To feel myself surrounded by the love of God and of my fellow Christians, living and dead, is important,” wrote James Kiefer.*2
Know that you are part of “a great cloud” of saints, believers and the departed whom we miss and still hold in our hearts. Being in community with fellow mourners during these days of remembrance or on an anniversary strengthens and uplifts us as we pray for one another:
“O merciful Father, who has taught us that you do not willingly afflict or grieve us. Look with pity upon our sorrows. Remember us O Lord in mercy, nourish our souls, comfort us with a sense your goodness, and give us peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*3
And to those for whom remembering is till too painful, hymnist and poet Christina Rosetti suggested:
“Remember me when I am gone away,…
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
… Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”
Prayers and commemoration liturgies can be found at the New Zealand Prayer Book, the Episcopal Lectionary online and The Anglican Compass. The New Zealand site includes a link to a somber but beautiful Orthodox chant for the departed.
It’s important to note that Anniversary Responses apply to other losses such as unemployment, the end of a relationship, and injury or fear from a traumatic event as well. Resources to help cope with both grief and trauma reactions can be found at the Funeral Help Center and American Psychological Assoc. sites.
For an in-depth and interesting history of Allhallowstide, it’s worth wading through the pop-ups to read “Season of the Dead” .
*1 Douay-Rheims 1899 65:17b
*2 Mission St Clare, “Commemoration” https://www.missionstclare.com/english/October/whole/morning/28m.html
*3 Adapted from BCP prayer For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement
Lexiann Grant is a retired writer & author, a former chalicer and layreader, but still an Episcopalian who enjoys encountering God in the mountain backcountry.