Helping our kids walk through painful anniversaries

Written by Marissa Bondurant
Published on January 18, 2022

It was August of 2018 that our four-year-old daughter was diagnosed with kidney cancer, had surgery, and began her treatment protocol. Even though our daughter is now cancer free, those dates in August continue to be painful for our family. 

We’ve tried ignoring those anniversaries, but what we’ve found to be the most healing is when we bring those days into the light and allow God’s grace to carry us through. 

Maybe your family also has a painful date on the calendar. And maybe like us, you’ve struggled with how to walk through them in a way that tethers you to Jesus. 

Our family is still figuring this out, but we have found that bringing our pain into the light, extending grace to one another, anchoring ourselves in the word, and having a simple plan, have helped our family navigate painful anniversaries. 

4 ways to foster healing

1. Bring the pain into the light

Our cancer survivor struggled with nightmares for a long time after her treatment ended. Memories and various triggers of those hard days were hard for her to process. She felt ashamed of her scary dreams and thought it was her fault. 

It wasn’t until she shared them with us, and we were able to help her bring those painful memories into the light of Jesus, that her shame and the nightmares began to slowly go away. 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). I love that the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus brings a flashlight or a candle to create light. 

He isn’t a conduit of light—he himself is the light! And in him there is no darkness! 

When we teach our children how to bring their hard things to the Lord, we are sharing in the work of Christ to overwhelm the broken world with his love, truth and grace. 

My husband and I talked to our daughter about the fact that we also get scary dreams sometimes. We told her how they make us feel and walked her through how we pray and take our feelings to Jesus. 

As uncomfortable as it might feel, it is important for our kids to know that we also experience sadness, fear, and pain. It is good for them to see us bring our emotions into the light of Christ. This teaches them that it’s OK to experience different emotions, and that their feelings are never “too much” for us, or for Jesus. 

2. Extend grace toward different experiences 

Each year that we walk through a painful anniversary feels a little different. One year the day goes by smoothly. The next year we find ourselves crying the entire week leading up to it. The same goes for our children. 

As they develop and change, so too will they process painful memories and anniversaries differently. Our oldest daughter was 6 when her sister was diagnosed with cancer. 

For the first couple of years August came and went uneventfully for her. But this past summer, when she was 9, it hit her hard. 

We don’t have to fear the painful anniversaries each year. But it can be helpful to acknowledge their presence and to remind our children that however they feel that day is normal, and OK. 

In our home we say things like: “Tomorrow is the anniversary of ______. It may feel like a regular day for you. But it also might bring up some different thoughts or feelings. Just know that however you feel tomorrow is normal, and I’m here to talk about anything you want to talk about.” 

This gives our children permission to feel how they are going to feel. And it removes any false sense of shame they might feel regarding their response to the day. It’s totally fine for the day to feel normal for them! It’s also totally fine for the day to be hard! 

Having this conversation ahead of time also sets us up to respond with grace however our child experiences that painful anniversary. Their tantrum, or complaint about a stomach-ache, their lack of appetite or poor sleep can be put into a proper frame of reference, and we will be more likely to respond patiently and compassionately. 

3. Tether ourselves to Jesus through his word 

After we’ve helped our children recognize and name what they are experiencing, we can point them to some of God’s promises regarding their pain. Here are a couple scriptures that our children find comforting:

• “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).

• “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).

• “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). 

We can help our children remember these promises by acting them out. Consider helping your kids write the things that are causing them pain/sadness/fear on strips of paper. 

Cut them out and have your kids put the strips into a vase or a glass bottle. Pray with them, thanking God for keeping track of our tears and for his promise to one day wipe them all away. 

4. A practical plan for getting through the hard days 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the idea of getting yourself and your kids through a painful anniversary, then it might help to have a simple plan. 

In addition to praying with them and sharing the verses above, choose in advance three fun distractions that you are willing to say yes to (ex: watch a movie or get ice cream). Then on the hard day, you can let your kids pick one of those things to do as a family. 

Maybe one year you’ll even feel up to doing a “take back” day. Where you do something fun or to serve others near that anniversary. 

This past year our girls decided to raise money for childhood cancer research by selling lemonade in August. “Taking back” that hard month was a practical way for us to participate in God’s redemptive plans. 

Most of all, rest in the fact that Jesus offers abundant grace for walking through painful anniversaries. We won’t always navigate these days well, but the Lord loves us and our families, and he will redeem even the darkest parts of our stories. 


Consider a few extra resources:

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Marissa Bondurant

Marissa Bondurant is a wife and a mom to four girls (ages 10, 8, 5, 2). Having walked through childhood cancer with her second daughter, her desire is to encourage the hearts of weary moms with the hope of the gospel. She writes at www.marissabondurant.com , as well as for Christian Parents of Kids with Cancer. When she’s not writing, you can find her wrangling her strong-willed girls, sweeping goldfish off the floor, or exploring the south Texas outdoors. You can interact with her on Facebook or Instagram.

Read more about Marissa

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