I have written about anniversaries before, but I have recently corresponded with a few families who have an upcoming anniversary that is unsettling for them, and I thought it was time to revisit the subject.

Most people think of anniversaries as celebrations, but many times they can be tough: the anniversary of a death, of an accident, of a surgery, or of a diagnosis. There are dates in our lives that we’ll never forget; dates that define our life as before and after. For me, of course, that date is January 24, 1992.

Milestone anniversaries are our own personal, unspoken, emotional line of demarcation. For me, there is life before the bus accident and life after the bus accident. And life before and after is very different; just as I am a much different person after than I was before. This too adds to the challenges of tragedy.

In the beginning, the anniversary was measured by weeks: it’s been one week since the accident; it’s been seven weeks since the accident. And then, around the sixth month, it was measured by months: with each month’s 24th being a milestone: July 24th, October 24th, etc… I still can’t see the date “24,” no matter what month, and not at least take note of it. And January 24, no matter the year, is a date that always catches my attention and emotion.

January 1993, the one-year anniversary of our bus accident, was very complex. There was media attention that was respectful and well-meaning, but it was still very hard. While the entire community (and country) watched, we didn’t want them watching this very private and emotional time. Added to the challenge was this same community had helped us through the past year; didn’t they deserve to know how we were doing? Perhaps. But it was still hard.
And while many on campus thought the January 1993 several-page Sports Illustrated article was “well done” (which is was) and “neat” (subjective), we – collectively as a team – didn’t like it at all. Even as athletes, none of us wanted to be Sports Illustrated for this reason.

Why? Because we were kind of a mess. The one year anniversary of our bus accident was a myriad of emotions; we were all over the place in our healing. And while this was completely normal, it was very, very hard.
Some of us cried in anger. Some of us cried in sadness. Some of us celebrated with joy the year being over. I probably did all three. While many of my teammates had not lived with injuries that reminded them of the bus accident every hour of every day, I had. And after five surgeries, months in the hospital, and 100s of hours of physical therapy, I was really glad that tough year was over. I celebrated that 1st anniversary. I mourned my deceased friends, but I was happy too.

The most interesting part of our January anniversary – both in 1993 and every year since – is that it’s not January 24th that’s the hard day. The actual date of the anniversary is not the most challenging time. It is the weeks and days leading up to the anniversary that are brutal. I am not sure why this is, and I didn’t recognize it right away, but I have found this to be consistently true. Maybe it is the uncertainty of the unknown; maybe it is the anxiety of knowing the anniversary is approaching. Maybe it is – especially on year one – knowing that “this time last year,” life was good. Life was normal. Life was still “before.” And there is a loss in being reminded of that line of demarcation.

To my friends in New Jersey, you have been in my thoughts these weeks and days leading up to your anniversary. Please know that whatever you are feeling: sadness, anger, relief, joy, guilt, gratitude, all of the above; you are feeling just what you should be feeling. You are healing.