Key Takeaways

    • The anniversary of your loved one’s cardiac arrest can reactivate intense emotions – joy, anxiety or both.  
    • Your feelings are real and quite normal. Try to give yourself the grace to feel, reflect, and heal. 
    • Celebrating your loved one’s re-birthday can be meaningful for some.
    • There’s no right or wrong way to manage the anniversary of your loved one’s cardiac arrest.
How do I navigate this emotional day?

The anniversary of your loved one’s cardiac arrest can be joyful, stressful, or both at the same time. Anniversary dates can reactivate thoughts and feelings from your loved one’s cardiac arrest. You may feel a rush of intense emotions that take you back to that day as if you are reliving it. You may feel a bit all over the place—grateful for survival, sad that life may have changed, obligated to recognize this milestone, quiet and reflective, numb, or anything in between. Some co-survivors may want to celebrate it as a “re-birthday,” and others may want to focus on anything but those traumatic memories. There’s no right or wrong way to mark and process this day. It’s different for everyone.

Re-birthday anniversary Q&A by co-survivors for co-survivors

Each year, as you approach the re-birthday/anniversary date, you may ponder these very questions. In this article, we share common questions and answers posed by co-survivors who share your lived experience. 

Q1: Why am I struggling with my emotions? Shouldn’t this be a day to celebrate my loved one’s survival? 

A: This day can be hard—especially the first anniversary with so many feelings to process. Focus on the positives and how far you have come in your journey since cardiac arrest. Some of us choose to celebrate our re-birthday in some way. But others prefer a lowkey, quiet day. Try not to feel obligated either way. 


Q2: What if one of us wants to celebrate and the other wants to let the day pass unrecognized?

A: Remember that the co-survivor and the survivor experienced the cardiac event very differently and may look at the anniversary very differently as well. Start with a conversation well in advance of the anniversary to share everyone’s desires or concerns. Communication is key to finding the best way to plan the day, minimize stress, and manage anxiety. 


Q3: What if this day causes anxiety for us? 

A: It’s normal to feel anxiety leading up to the anniversary of a traumatic, life-changing event. These feelings may reoccur at every approaching anniversary date and never go away. But each year, we get better at managing our emotions as we mark these milestones. It can be healing to recognize the progress we have made in our survivorship journey each year.


Q4: Have I really grasped that my loved one died and was resuscitated? Was reborn?

A: The concept of resuscitation is profound and sometimes hard to wrap your head around. The idea of having a “re-birthday” may help you embrace the weight of resuscitation in a matter-of-fact and celebratory way. It also helps outsiders better understand your situation. 


Q5: I’m stuck not knowing how to manage this day. Shouldn’t I have figured this out by now?

A: The life of a co-survivor is a long journey filled with twists and turns, ups and downs. We learn as we go and find ways to navigate each and every one. When we feel truly stuck, many of us seek help from friends, family members, doctors, and therapists. Remember that we are survivors, too. Our emotional healing lags behind that of our survivor. We first focus on their care and may neglect our own needs. It’s okay to seek help to find our feet and live looking forward.


These questions, thoughts, and feelings are normal. Try to give yourself the grace to feel, reflect, and heal.

Ideas to mark this special day

Reflect on the journey: Take time to reflect on the journey you and your family have been on since the cardiac arrest. Recognize how far you have come.

    • Choose photos that capture special memories with your survivor for the prior year. Maybe create a collage each year.
    • Relax and appreciate quiet time together.
    • Cook your favorite meal, or better yet, order in.
    • Don’t forget self-care—do something for yourself that brings you joy.

Express gratitude: Take time to express gratitude for the care team, first responders, and others who helped save your loved one’s life.

    • If you have made connections with people who helped save your survivor’s life, send a note or pay a visit to let them know you’re thinking of them on this special day. 
    • If you like to bake, delivering cookies is a nice touch!

Share your story: Only if it feels right and you and your survivor are in agreement. You can help raise awareness and understanding of cardiac arrest and the importance of CPR and AED. This can inspire others who may be going through a similar experience.

    • Volunteering should always be on your own terms. You choose if this is the right path for you and your family.

Remember, everyone copes with traumatic events differently, and there’s no right or wrong way to manage the anniversary of your loved one’s cardiac arrest. Try to give yourself space to feel, reflect, cry, and breathe. Preparing for these feelings and talking about them in advance can help you navigate re-birthdays. You. Can. Do. This!


Thank You to Our Contributors

Debbie Medina & Jennifer Chap

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