By Kristin Wilson

Everyone loves to celebrate an anniversary. It’s a reason to go out to a nicer dinner, maybe exchange gifts, get some flowers or pick out that perfectly worded card. But what happens when the anniversary is of the death of a loved one – or a “deathiversary” (as I’ve started to call it)? I don’t actually think that’s a real word and my quick google search right now would confirm that it is in fact not.  I am unfortunate enough to have not just one, but two that I have to “celebrate” every year.

  • 8/1/2012: The day my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack while sleeping.
  • 2/3/2020: The day I found out my mother also died unexpectedly (cause of death is also noted as a heart attack, but truth be told we’ll never know for certain).

If you’re new to me and my story, you can check out my first blog post from May 2020 for some more insight into my processing of the loss of my mom. There will be some overlap in this post, but I’m hoping to shift the focus this round. I don’t want to focus on death itself in this post, but what comes AFTER.  I’m coming up on the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death. Let me tell you, this year has not been easy.  I still sob in the shower when I think about how I’ll never talk to her again or see her. When Sawyer does something really cute or funny, I just want to call her to tell her, and I eventually snap back to reality and realize I can’t. She won’t see Sawyer grow up, and she’ll never meet any other babies Noah and I have.  She’ll never call me on my birthday again, or help us wrap presents on Christmas Eve (because let’s be honest, no matter how hard you try to get ahead of the game, you still end up wrapping till 2 am). She just isn’t here anymore. That is a really tough pill to swallow.

I won’t lie in this post and tell you a year I’m back to “normal”.  Though, here is what I have learned after losing both my parents – you have two choices. You can choose to shut down and stop living, or you can choose to carry on and keep going.  In fact, my biggest take away from these experiences is that life is too short!  I have to keep living (despite the sorrow) because they would want it that way. Because I have a sweet little boy that counts on me now. So even though I am sad, I have to make the best of the rest of this life without them.  That is how I “celebrate” their “deathiversaries”.

I have read a few articles about “post-traumatic growth” recently, and while I know there are far more traumatic things than losing your parents, I think I have really embodied this concept over the last year. I had a tremendous year of growth following the loss of my mom. I have discovered newfound confidence because it is on me to now be the grown-up.  I no longer have a mom or a dad to turn to when things get tough. Of course, I have siblings, in-laws, and extended family, but there is a strange mental shift that happened after my mother passed. That shift permeated throughout the rest of my life.  Suddenly I became a force to be reckoned with at work.  I got myself out of the nitty-gritty details of my job and elevated myself as part of the leadership team. Eventually, I earned a HUGE promotion to Senior Vice President at the end of the year. Somehow in the midst of all the awful things that were happening in 2020, I was making the best of it. I showed up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Put a smile on my face, and worked hard. I cried to myself when I needed it. As the tears came, I wiped them away and I got back to living.

I doubled down on getting plugged in with our church family. We got back into a small group for the first time since Sawyer was born, and we started attending church in-person as soon as we were all safely able to do so. Because I know myself. When I go too long in-between going to church, I lose the connections with our church friends and family, and I sink down into a deeper depression. My mental health suffers. I need church. I need our community. I’m so glad we’re able to be back in-person.

So, I encourage you: when your life takes a turn you don’t expect, when you find yourself suffering a terrible loss if you end up in a place where your own health is in jeopardy, or any other dark place, don’t turn away from Jesus or The Church.  All too often that is the first response – blaming God and questioning why everything is the way it is.  I too ask why all the time! But I know there is a purpose. I know He has a plan for me and my life. After all – God made the ultimate sacrifice. He suffered the loss of His only son Jesus. We celebrate the “deathiversary” of Jesus every year – but we get the beauty of it – we get to celebrate His resurrection and the salvation He offers to all of us. After all, it’s not the death we should focus on – but what comes after!