One year on from Prince Philips’s death; How to cope with landmark days while you’re grieving

It’s almost 12 months since the Duke of Edinburgh passed away on April 9, 2021.

The Duke of Edinburgh died on April 9, 2021
The Duke of Edinburgh died on April 9, 2021

This year, the Queen will mark the first anniversary of Prince Philip’s death. The royal couple had been married for 73 years when Philip died of natural causes on April 9, 2021, leaving behind four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

While grieving is different for everyone, the first anniversary after the death of a loved one – or any significant landmark date, such as a birthday, wedding anniversary or Christmas – can be difficult to face.

For some people, the day brings back painful memories, while for others, it’s a reminder that the loss is still felt so keenly.

“There’s no right or wrong approach to landmark days and anniversaries after a loved one has passed,” says Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist with wellbeing brand Healthspan. “Whatever you’re feeling is absolutely fine, no matter how long it’s been since someone you loved has died.”

Here, experts offer their advice for anyone approaching a significant date following the death of a loved one.

Don’t suppress your feelings

“When the day occurs, that is only truly when you will know how you feel,” says senior accredited integrative therapist and BACP member Dee Johnson.

“Grief is transient, it’s an emotional roller coaster – try to accept that it’s OK to feel angry, heartbroken, anxious or numb. Don’t pretend you’re OK if you’re not. Be open. Our tears are a symbol of our love, and why would we want to deny that?”

Therapeutic counsellor and BACP member Indira Chima says to remember that processing the death of a loved one takes time: “Even if you’re getting on with your life the best you can, it’s normal to regress at the time of the anniversary of their death, particularly the first anniversary.”

It’s good to talk

While those in mourning may be tempted to withdraw as the day approaches, it can help to share your feelings.

“Talk to friends, loved ones of the deceased, or a counsellor – keep the connections going,” says Johnson. “Tell people it’s an important day for you. They may not remember the exact date and you may feel very sensitive and hurt by that, experiencing it as a rejection.”

Choose how you want to spend the day

“Take time out of your diary on the day and make it easy for you to step away from work and other commitments if you need,” Chima advises. “Think about how you would like to spend the day and who you want to have around you. Perhaps you would prefer to be on your own.”

Or you might like to be surrounded by family and friends. Johnson says: “Do what you think will make you feel better on the day. It’s your loss, your grief, there’s no rule book.”

Create a remembrance ritual

Some people find it helpful to create a special remembrance ritual in honour of their friend or relative.

“It is often beneficial to proactively set aside time to connect with your feelings of loss and memories of your loved one,” says Arroll. “Actively scheduling in some time and space for reflection will often put your mind at rest, and give some structure to challenging days.”

If family are gathered, you can mark the occasion together, Chima suggests: “Lighting a candle or talking about the person, perhaps with people who knew them, is a way of keeping their memory alive, or hanging a personalised Christmas bauble on the tree – these are all helpful things you can do.”

Be kind to yourself

Self-compassion is important at any stage of grief, and particularly on landmark days, Arroll says: “There is no set timeline or fixed process, rather we simply start to interweave the sense of loss into the fabric of our lives. Go gently today and be kind to you.”

Don’t try to fast-forward through the important healing process, Chima says: “Give yourself permission to feel the way you feel for as long as you need to recover, and go on being.”

Ask for help if you need it

Even if you choose to spend the landmark day alone, you may want to seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed at any time.

“Grief can make us feel intensely isolated,” says Arroll. “But there are many organisations that can help, including Cruse which offers grief counselling. This type of therapeutic support can also be accessed via your GP – so if you do feel that you’re not coping, please reach out.”