• Helen Dillon-Cottee

The anniversary after

Today would have been my 18th wedding anniversary, or maybe it still is because I'm not divorced yet? I'm not sure.

Let's start by saying that today is a complicated day.

Today is also the 4th anniversary of my mum-in-law's death which is also complex because she was always more than a standard 'in-law' to me.

Complicated.



For me, this will never be just another day. I can't un-remember my wedding day and all that it signified: so full of hope and expectation and the culmination of all my desires to be a wife and a partner. I can't un-remember it, and I don't want to.

I can't and won't forget all the years since of anniversary weekends of fun and laughter and time together. The one in 2007 when I cried through a Michelin star dinner because it was the first time I'd been away from our 9-month old son and also because it was so beautiful, of weekends pottering around the Cotswolds buying one-off pieces of art and having long slow afternoons in a 16th century inn. I don't want to forget the amazing trip to Mauritius on our 10th anniversary. I also don't want to forget the hardest one yet in 2017 as we gathered around my mother-in-law's bed and prayed her off this earth and onto the next adventure.

Eighteen years is a lifetime and although I am soon not going to be married to the man I shared that lifetime with, I cannot and will not simply treat this day as if it's just another Monday.

But this day is now even more complicated than it has been. I am legally still a wife but haven't been in reality for 10 months and so this day is no longer about my marriage.

I messaged my coaching tribe last night to say I was struggling to know how to do this day. How do I celebrate and honour something which has died alongside someone who has died? How does this day not become a day of loss and grief when for so many years it was a day of joy?

One of my coaching tribe suggested that maybe this day needs reforming. Of course. This is exactly what I would have told a client but somehow hadn't seen for myself (this is why we need a village!) and so this morning I sat down and worked out my 're-forming' of this day.

And here's what I came up with: 17th May is a day to celebrate love.

For many years it was the day I celebrated how I loved my husband. Four years ago it became a day where I celebrated the life and impact of my mother-in-law. From 2021 onward it is the day I celebrate love in all the ways it shows up in my life.

And so I am doing a dinner with wine and beautiful food for some of my girlfriends this evening, I have received beautiful messages from friends who love me well enough to know this day is not-just-a-Monday, I just spoke to one of my tribe who rang from the US to tell me she loves me. I just messaged my kids to tell them I love them, I got flowers from Best-Friend saying she loves me, I dug out a wedding photo and journaled about all the love and gratitude that was there in my 18 years with my husband, I also journaled about my mum-in-law like I do every year.

In the past the 'form' of today was celebrating love with one man; today I celebrate love in all the ways it shows up in my life.

I thought today would be sad because I was reminded of the loss of love, but instead, it is both sad and wonderful as I realise today may look different but I am no less loved than I was on 17th May last year, or four years ago or 18 years ago.

Why do I write this? Because the reality of reform is both brutal and beautiful. And maybe there is someone else who is facing 'a day' that is not just a Monday sometime soon who needs to hear that everything is redeemable, reformable, and beautiful in its own special way.