Facing the Anniversary of a Loved One’s Death

Each year on the anniversary of our son’s death, or deathiversary, we head to the cemetery to remember Silas’ life. This week marked three years since my son died. Though it’s tempting to pretend it’s not a hard day and skip over the painful acknowledgment of this date,  I’ve realized that the deathiversary is an important moment for our family.

Namely, when we acknowledge painful days in a healthy way, it makes those days a lot more bearable. Instead of feeling sad, irritable, or on an emotional roller coaster ride, we deal with the heartache, recognize the loss, and process our emotions.

There is no one right way to remember a loved one’s death. It can be as simple as sharing a special photo on Facebook or as elaborate as making a loved one’s favorite meal or getting a memorial tattoo.

Either way, it’s a healthy practice for our family to acknowledge these kinds of hard days as much as joyful holidays and celebrations. This means planning a time of remembrance and giving ourselves space for raw and tender emotions.

The Jews have long celebrated the yahrzeit, or the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Beginning at night, their remembrance includes lighting a 24 hour candle representing the spirit of the person who has died. The Kaddish, a memorial prayer, is included on the day as well as attending synagogue. Some people even fast.

Our remembrance day varies each year but typically includes the following:

1. Visiting Our Son’s Grave

I once heard someone ask the question: Why would anyone visit a loved one’s grave if you know your loved one isn’t there?

Although we believe our son is in heaven with Jesus, we still visit his gravesite each year on the anniversary of his death to remember him. His grave marker is a memorial to us. In the same way that Americans visit a war memorial to remember a catastrophic event, we go to the grave to remember his death. We bring some type of decoration, like flowers, and clean up his gravestone.  It helps us to focus on his life and the pain we feel in our loss.

2. Sing or listen to a song

Soon after our son died, we started a tradition of singing hymns at his gravesite. This is a practice my husband’s family embraces on all occasions, but it is especially meaningful in a cemetery.  Music is a great soul-salve, especially when we are feeling emotionally raw. And like most cemetaries, we are usually alone, so there is no pressure.  Music gives us words when we feel numb and speechless. These songs remind us what we believe. Don’t feel comfortable singing?  Bring your smartphone and play a song that is meaningful for you.

3. Balloon or skylantern release

Our grieving center introduced the tradition of releasing something into the sky to remember our loved ones, along with notes attached to the balloon string. The act of writing a letter to your loved one is therapeautic in so many ways—it helps express your feelings of missing that person, it provides a chance to say I love you or anything else on your mind, and it gives you a chance to feel connected. Even though we all know these objects don’t reach heaven, it is mesmerizing to watch them drift off into the unknown. It helps us slow down and just be.

4. Reading a children’s book on grief

Books like The Invisible String and Tear Soup help children process grief through stories. Many of these books were gifts after our son died to help our daughter heal. Revisiting these stories on the anniversary of our son’s death is a good way for her to process her loss. Plus simple stories can be comforting, even for adults.

5. Sharing memories of our son

Sharing stories brings healing. But after a loved one dies, many people are afraid to bring these stories up, fearing it will cause pain. My advice?  Don’t be afraid to share your best memories of the deceased. These stories are powerful ways to remember a family or friend who has died. The deathiversary gives us permission to tell these stories, allowing us to remember the impact that person made in our lives.


Creative ways to remember your loved one

  • Make your loved one’s favorite food
  • Write your memories onto slips of paper and insert into a bottle. The next year, open the bottle (or break it) and pull out the memories to read.
  • Write a letter to your loved one.
  • Create a family scrapbook.
  • Make a memory bracelet
  • Decorate their gravesite
  • Visit a favorite place
  • Make memory stones
  • Listen to their favorite song
  • Light a memory candle

What ways do you remember a loved one who has died? How do you honor the memory of your family and friends who have passed away?

Here are 20 ideas for remembering a loved one during the holidays.

See all my grief and loss articles here.

If you feel like this post was helpful to you, please share it. As always, I am honored to have you, dear reader, along for this journey.




35 Comments on 15 ideas for facing the anniversary of a loved one’s death

  1. Thank you for sharing your ideas/suggestions. I’m a Stephen Minister and was looking for ideas on how my current care receiver could spend the 1st anniversary of her son’s death this week. I’m going to suggest that she keep your website and blog handy.


  3. Thank you for your suggestions. It will help me celebrate the first death anniversary of my husband. God bless you.

  4. Thank you! Some of these ideas my husband and I do on a daily basis. With our daughter’s 1st Anniversary of her death. I was looking to do something different.
    At the same time of her 1st Anniversary after giving birth to a beautiful baby boy who will be celebrating his 1st Birthday two weeks before. I will purchase those children’s books and put them on a book shelf in my daughter’s room that will soon become his when he is with us.
    We will try some of your other ideas.
    Thank you!

  5. Thank you our daughters death last Nov 8th of 2016 is coming up and we did not know what to do. All we keep thinking is last year at this time she was here. I love the idea of making her favorite food.

    Thank you

  6. I’ve been putting more stress on myself over what to do to honor the 1 yr mark of losing my mom,Nov.30. Thank for sharing these ideas. I just want to make it through the day.

    • Shirsten, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your mom and hope that your special memories of her will be a comfort on this first anniversary.

  7. The second anniversary of my father’s death is a week from today and I am so that I stumbled upon this page, it’s actually really helped make it more bearable. What is funny is that I had my browser open to Pinterest and then my cat actually somehow stepped on my phone and I linked to your page. I think I might have been supposed to come over and read. And interesting considering her name is Sara, too. But this is what I was looking for, I didn’t know that I was. But I found it anyway.

  8. Thank you. The first anniversary of my son’s death is 1/28/18. The anticipation of that day is just awful. I’m scared and sad. I will keep this handy. Thank you Nick’s mom, forever 19.

    • Tracy – I understand your pain and sorrow. My precious nephew’s angelversary is on 1/29/18. He is forever 25.
      Matthew’s Aunt Evie

    • Tracy, I’m so sorry for the loss of your son. There are so many emotions during and around that first anniversary. I hope that even through the tears there will be happy memories. I will pray for you.

    • I feel your pain and your same emotions. The anniversary of my sons death is 12/02/18. I want to do something in remembrance, but then feel guilty if it’s something fun he’d like, because he’s not here to do it with us. I’m having a hard time. I just want to sit and cry,bit I know I need to do something.

      • I know how hard it is to enjoy something that you know your son would have loved. That tug of emotions is totally normal. I would still encourage you to do something to honor him if you can. And know that it’s okay to enjoy it. He would want you too.

  9. The first anniversary of my mother’s suicide is in a few days. I haven’t been able to find a way to handle 1/24/19 and this site has been so helpful, thank you. The holiday’s were almost unbearable, I am determined to focus on honoring her on this upcoming anniversary.

    • Kim, I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom. There’s no way to untangle your grief during the holidays, especially when there are so many emotions wrapped up in it. My first Christmas without my son was horribly hard and I think the only thing that got me through is realizing it would eventually be over. I think it’s good to try and remember your loved one on the anniversary of their death. It doesn’t take the hurt away, but it honors who they were and what they meant to you and it gives you a way to honor them. No matter how many tears I’ve shed on these occasions, I’m always glad to remember that they lived and how much love we had. I hope you can do the same.

  10. My husband’s died on 1-26-2018, I loved your balloon release idea, maybe I will tie an “We love you eternally” note on it and my daughter and I will release it. We where both there bedside kissing him goodbye as he died last year. This day marks a passing of a very sad year and I would like to be released from this grief.

  11. Catherine, I am so sorry that you lost your husband a year ago. I think your idea about the balloon and note sounds beautiful. I know that grief is so hard, and I feel the weight of your statement about being released from grief. Oh, how I have felt that many times! I hope you are able to remember some beautiful memories on the 26th. I know it is a hard day, but it is good to do something special for him, and for you and your daughter too.


  12. It will be one year on February 19th that I lost my only child (my son). . I see others on here sharing so I thought I’d try sharing my pain.
    My husband of 44 years died in 2015. 8 Months later I lost my only sister. In February of 2018 I lost my son. To top it all off, I lost my mom last October.
    I really do not know why I have been left on this earth, but I know that I still have 2 brothers that I love dearly and am so grateful that I’m very close to one of them.
    I do pretty well most days but there are times when I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. My sister and I were very close (especially after my husband passed). When she passed away I knew I had my son to lean on. His death was the hardest! Then losing my mom just 4 months ago I feel like I’m grieving for all of them all over again & again.
    It’s very strange to me that after a loved one dies there are people that call to check on you for a short time. then they all stop calling. Even relatives.
    I do rely on a few friends and my church has become my “new” family.
    My question is this. Has anyone suffered so many losses in less than 4 years? If yes, how do you handle the pain?
    I must admit that the pain becomes a wee bit more bearable with time, except for my son. He was only 44 years old.
    I thank you for the opportunity to share with others that have felt the same pain and I pray for every one of you. God Bless!

    • I’m so sorry for all your losses Pat! I know there are others out there who have experienced several losses close together and that you are not alone. I remember reading Jerry Sittser’s book, A Grace Disguised, where he talks about losing his daughter, wife and mother in a car accident. And through it all, he is still able to see God’s grace. A tough, but beautiful read.

    • hey girl your story really touched my heart. I’m 22 with my father passing on 10/22/12 and with my mom whom I was very close with on 7/13/18. the pain is surreal sometimes I feel like nobody else in the world understands the pain and hurt. seeing their personalities and noticing how I’m so much like them eases the pain, as if they are living through me. knowing they aren’t fully gone helps me grief. Thank you for this blog, my mother’s anniversary is coming up soon and I wanted to do something very special. This helped me out so much!!

      • I’m so sorry Ollie! It’s so hard to lose a parent. I hope this website can be an encouragement to you through this journey.

  13. I lost my baby at 5 weeks to SIDS 4 years ago. I feel so alone this year. I want to remember him and for those around me to too. I don’t know what to do

  14. My son died last year on November 8, 2018 after a years long battle with cancer. I keep thinking of how difficult things were a year ago and it is hard to think of anything else. I have support from friends and family, but retired a few weeks ago, and all of the new time on my own is not helping. I don’t want to start an annual event, I would rather celebrate his birthday, but need to survive this year. I am not sure what to do.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss Mary. It’s hard to know what to do, especially that first year, but I think doing something small but special may help you on that anniversary, whether that’s looking at pictures, releasing balloons, visiting the cemetery, or sharing memories. Those things have helped our family. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer, but remembering your loved one does help you continue to process your grief and honor their memory.

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