Last Updated on July 15, 2020
A death anniversary is a peculiar sort of holiday.
After all, how can you “celebrate” a life that is gone, one you so dearly miss? How do you grieve, yet heal? Can you remember a loved one without becoming overwhelmed, or should you try to ignore or forget the day they died?
Or what if you are the friend of someone whose spouse or child has died. How do you comfort them on the anniversary of their loved one’s death? Should you do or say anything?
Here are some thoughts on how to remember loved ones as the years go by.
We have ideas for those who grieve, and for those who want to support and be there for a grieving friend.
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Should You Celebrate a Death Anniversary?
In my view, yes. But we should be careful with the word “celebrate.” Perhaps commemorate, honor, remember, or observe would be better.
But the idea is the same: On the anniversary of a loved one’s death, it is good to acknowledge the loss. The form of grief will change over time, but that empty place will always be there.
The person who died was real. They actually lived, and they deserve to be remembered, cherished, and honored. Even if they had their faults (and we all do!), their life impacted many people in many ways. It is healthy to acknowledge this.
So however you do it, large or small, and whatever you choose to do, from a quiet time of journaling to a full-on party, yes, you should celebrate a death anniversary.
Death Anniversary Guide
So yes, you should commemorate a death anniversary. Let’s talk about ways to do this.
First, we’ll talk about how to observe your own loved one’s death anniversary.
Second, we’ll provide a guide on how you can be there for a grieving friend when their loved one’s death anniversary is approaching.
Part I: Observing Your Loved One’s Death Anniversary
It’s been one year since your beloved passed away. Perhaps more. How can you honor their life on the anniversary of their death?
Here are some creative ways.
First Death Anniversary Ideas
Take the Day Off
It’s going to be a tough day. It’s been a year; it feels like just a day or two. The grief may have subdued a little, but especially on the “day of” you will probably feel raw. Plan some time to mourn, contemplate, pray, journal, walk, or just bury yourself in the couch.
Take the day off from work. Don’t plan any big activities, and feel free to skip some daily chores. Set aside time to remember.
Get a pamphlet or book that will provide some help and guidance from those who have experienced loss themselves. When you read the thoughts of others, you learn and grow in ways that you cannot do on your own.
Here are a few resources:
- Facing the Death of Someone You Love by Elizabeth Elliot (small pamphlet)
- Grief Day By Day by Jan Warner (collection of quotes, readings, and questions for contemplation)
- The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James (20th anniversary edition of a classic work)
- A Grief Sanctified by Richard Baxter and J.I. Packer (a 17th century Puritan’s tribute to his wife, with a modern pastor’s commentary)
- It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine (how to grieve in a culture that doesn’t understand grief)
- A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (one of the classic grief memoirs in the English language)
Today is a good day to journal your thoughts. Write down a poem, or memories of your loved one. What would you say if your loved one was here, right now?
Writing can be very therapeutic. Get a good notebook to use as a grief journal, write a letter on nice stationery, or open a notepad on your computer and type away.
Keep the notebook or digital file, and add to it at least once per year, on the anniversary. Over time, you’ll be able to look back to previous entries and see how your grief and mindset has evolved.
Write Thank-You Notes
Some people are highly motivated go-getters. If that’s you, maybe the first anniversary is the time you could go through all the sympathy cards and write thank-you notes.
Sometimes, this type of “work” can be a healthy source of healing and consolation, as you complete a task and get to review all the messages of comfort from family and friends.
Like many of us in this digital age, you probably have a camera that you carry around every moment of the day. Go through your phone’s photos (or your social media accounts) and choose some photos to print out.
There are many services that will print photos directly from Instagram or other websites. You can also take your phone in to many printers and they can pull the photos from your phone. Otherwise, you’ll want to contact the printers and email/upload the ones you want printed, or go there with a zip drive of the files.
The first death anniversary is a good time to get started on this. Before then can feel too soon; over a year and many of these things will be lost to time.
Personalize Memorial Jewelry
Get a necklace with their name or signature engraved, and maybe include their birthstone as well. There are many incredibly creative memorial jewelry ideas handcrafted at Etsy.
Additionally, at Urns Northwest we have memorial jewelry with compartments to hold a small token amount of their ashes. If your loved one was cremated, this is a lovely memorial idea and a way to “keep them close to your heart.”
Donate or Volunteer for a Cause
For some, serving others is the best way to honor a loved one’s memory on the anniversary of their death. If your loved one had a heart of gold and loved to serve others, this is a beautiful and meaningful tribute.
Death Anniversary Ideas
The anniversary of your loved one’s death is the ideal day to set aside for contemplation, reflection, prayer, and perhaps even starting a tradition. Here are a few ideas.
Visit Their Final Resting Place
The traditional way to commemorate the day of your loved one’s passing is to make a trip out to the grave site and pay your respects.
Nowadays this could be a grave at the cemetery, but it could also be a mausoleum, the place where you scattered their ashes, or (if their cremated remains are kept at home), some other meaningful location that was special to you. You could even bring the urn along with you.
Bring flowers and spend some time there. You may also want to bring a little pop-up travel chair so you can sit a while.
Hold a Remembrance Ceremony
Invite family members and friends to a special anniversary ceremony. No doubt many of the people close to you will feel unsure about whether they should talk about your loved one’s death; when you invite them, be sure to tell them that you want to keep your loved one’s memory alive and that they are welcome to share their own memories and thoughts.
Anything that you might do at a funeral or memorial service you can do at a death anniversary remembrance. Just do it on a smaller scale, with a little less formal feel to it.
Remembrance ceremony ideas include:
- Readings, prayers, Scriptures, poems
- Share memories and stories
- Sing a song (for Christians, here are great hymns to sing)
- Listen to a memorial song
- Have a moment of silence
- Ask others to print out and bring photos of your loved one
- Ask others to write down their memories to keep in a memory jar
- Leave out photo albums and scrapbooks for people to browse
- Drink a toast to your loved one’s memory
- Share a meal, appetizers, dessert, or potluck together
Get a special notebook and write in it every year on the death anniversary. You can write sayings and stories as you remember them, journal where you’re at in the grief process, or just write down your thoughts and feelings.
Go Through Memories
Open up your keepsake box, go through old social media posts and photos, or get out the photo albums. If you haven’t already started a scrapbook or memory jar, you may as well start now.
On future anniversaries you can pull out your treasure trove of mementos and enjoy anew the memories you shared.
Listen to Their Favorite Music
Play their favorite song, album, or symphony. Sit back and listen and let the music wash over you. If the two of you had a “special song”, listen to that as well.
Express your emotions and honor your loved one’s memory through art. If you’re a painter, sculptor, or woodworker, create something each year. You can keep and display it, give it to family members or friends, or donate it in memory of your beloved.
If you’re a writer, poet, or musician, compose something. It can be as short as a few sentences (even a haiku) or a full-length biography (or epic poem). Compose new words to a favorite song, or write a completely new piece of music.
Use your art to remember your loved one on this special day.
Death Anniversary Quotes to Contemplate
Here are a few meaningful quotes to ponder as you think about your loved one on day of remembrance.
- Gone from my life forever, but never gone from my heart.
- You are my today and all of my tomorrows.
- The pain of losing you cannot be measured; but I know I will see you again in God’s great kingdom.
- It’s already been a year and I still can’t believe you’re gone. It feels like you’re about to walk in the door with open arms, ready for my embrace.
- It broke my heart to lose you, but you didn’t go alone.
Part of me went with you, where ever you may roam.
- Remembering you is easy; I do it every day.
Missing you is the heartache that never goes away.
- Today marks the anniversary of the day when I lost a piece of my heart.
- I realize now just how fragrant you made my life. I miss you, my love.
- Death is more universal than life. After all, everyone dies; but not everyone lives. You lived, and you lived well.
- There are some who bring a light so great to those around them that even after they have gone, the light remains.
- Death ends a life, not a relationship. – Robert Benchley
Part II: What to Do & Say On a Death Anniversary (Comforting a Friend)
You want to be there for your friend. What do you do? What should you say? How can you support and comfort your grieving friend without being pushy or invasive?
Here are some ways you can help your grieving friend as the anniversary of their loved one’s death approaches.
Tips to Bring Comfort on a Death Anniversary
Put the Date In Your Calendar
At or around the time of death, put a reminder in your calendar for the death anniversary. Set it to repeat yearly. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Each time the date approaches, you’ll be reminded and thus enabled to comfort your friend. You may want to send a card, gift, or flowers the first year. Or you could simply send a text, make a phone call, stop by with coffee, or invite your friend to go for a walk.
Put the Decedent’s Birthday in Your Calendar
The same thing goes for the person’s birthday. It will be a tough day for your friend, as they don’t get to be with their loved one on a special and meaningful day.
This is an important date to remember so that you can be there – in person, through text, or by sending a ‘thinking of you’ birthday card – for your your grieving friend.
Don’t ignore your friend’s grief. Yes, the funeral is over, and life has gone back to the (new) normal of routine and daily living. But the pain is still there; the loss is still real.
Acknowledge your friend’s grief. Mention their loved one’s name, and let your friend know that you’re thinking of both of them. It could be as simple as a text that says, “Hey, I know today is one year since [name] died. I just want you to know I’m thinking of you. [S]he was a really special person who left an amazing legacy. Love you lots.”
Here are some more tips on what to say.
Text (or Call) First and Ask
You don’t want to spring anything unexpected or overwhelming on your grieving friend. You’re not there to take over, but rather to come alongside. So, before you do anything major, ask.
Be Persistent and Intentional, But Not Pushy
While it’s important to ask, you need to go a step further than just saying “let me know if there’s anything you need.” No one in the history of the world (at least, as far as I know) has ever let anyone “know what they need”.
So you have to go just a little beyond that to make it clear that you intend to be there for your friend. Be more specific – “I’d like to come over and just be with you for a while, if that’s ok. Can I bring lunch? Or would you rather have coffee, or maybe some chocolate?”
Death Anniversary Ideas to Comfort a Friend
Share a Favorite Memory or Story
Write a card or simply text them. Any time you talk about their loved one, it’s a way to affirm the reality of their life and the grief your friend is feeling.
Plus, you might have a story they haven’t heard before, and that will always be a wonderful gift.
Bring a Meal
Your grieving friend may not be up to doing much. So cook for them! Or pick up take-out, or have something delivered.
Ask what they would prefer, and also ask if they would like you to come spend time with them or if they would prefer to be alone. They’ll appreciate it!
Make the Departed One’s Favorite Meal
The same idea applies here, but instead of just bringing a meal you can bring the groceries and cook up an extra-special meal for your friend.
Make it together, or cook for your friend while they sit and relax, talk with you, or just take a nap.
Bring a Gift Basket
There are plenty of gift baskets you can buy, but this is one gift that’s easier (and more meaningful) when you do it yourself.
Fill up a basket, bag, or plastic bin with comforting gifts and delectable treats. Go with a spa theme, chocolate and fruit, journals and art supplies and coffee/tea, or get a popcorn tub and fill it with movies and movie snacks.
Babysit the Kids
If they have young children, offer to watch the kids (at your place or theirs) so that they can get some alone time. Maybe they would like to go out on a long walk or hike.
Perhaps they just need some quiet time to be able to journal, pray, read, scrapbook, think about their loved one, or even just nap and veg out a bit. If it’s a couple who lost a little one, watch the other kids so they can go out together and strengthen their relationship in the midst of their remembering.
Whatever the case may be, anyone with kids will appreciate the gesture (and probably take you up on it).
Make a Donation In Memory
If there was a cause or organization that was important to the decedent, consider making a donation in memory of your loved one’s friend on the anniversary of their death.
This might include:
- Homeless shelters
- Veteran support organizations
- Adoption agencies
- Pregnancy resource centers
- Disability support organizations
- Medical awareness foundations or research
- Environmental protection groups
Many people appreciate the gesture of planting a tree in their loved one’s memory. Here’s how.
Share a Special Activity
This can be any number of things. Talk about it first, to make sure the activity isn’t too overwhelming, but you’ll be able to figure out something meaningful.
Go with your friend on a walk or hike to visit a favorite spot. Take them out to the restaurant where they had their first date. Binge a favorite show together. Substitute your presence where their loved one used to be – not that you’re taking that person’s place, but rather you’re enabling your friend as they experience some of those things they used to do.
What you’re doing is walking together with your friend as they grieve, and that can be an immensely meaningful way to show your love and support.
Death Anniversary Messages
If you’re looking for something specific to say, text, or write to your friend, you’re not alone. Here’s how to acknowledge the anniversary of death.
Quotes to Share
- Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – Dr. Seuss
- The song is ended, but the melody lingers on. – Irving Berlin
- When words are most empty, tears are most apt. – Max Lucado
- Though gone from sight to memory dear.
- It’s hard to forget someone who gave us so much to remember.
- When we lose someone we love, we must learn not to live without them, but to live with the love they left behind.
- Wherever a beautiful soul has been, there is a trail of beautiful memories.
- There are some who bring a light so great to those around them that even after they have gone, the light remains. [Name] was one such person.
- Wishing you peace to bring you comfort, courage to help you face the days ahead, and loving memories to forever hold in your heart.
Messages to Write or Text
- [Name] was deeply loved and will be sorely missed. Thinking of you today.
- It’s been a year today… I’d like to bring some food so you don’t have to cook, what’s your favorite?
- I have no words… But I want you to know I love you and am here for you.
- Just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you today, and remembering [name].
- [Name] was a special person and I miss him/her too. Just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you.
- I know that today might be a rough day. I have the day off; can I bring you some coffee, or take you somewhere? Or can I watch the kids so you can have a nap or a walk?
- Remembering [name] today. Just want you to know I’m here. Anytime you want to talk, text, or just get out, let me know.
- God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 Thinking of you today, dear friend, and remembering [Name]!
- I know today is an important day. I’m thinking of you. Want to get together?
- Today’s the anniversary; here’s something beautiful [attach picture of flowers, a pretty sunrise, etc]
- Wishing you a beautiful [Name] Remembrance Day. Thinking of both of you today.
- Just wanted to share my favorite photo of [Name] with you. She had a great smile and I’ll miss her a ton. [Attach photo]
- I know this is hard. I love you.
Death Anniversary Gift Ideas
Here are our five favorite gift ideas for a death anniversary. If you’re looking for some meaningful death anniversary ideas to comfort a grieving friend, these are some of the best.
Personalized Memorial Bird Feeder
This cedar wood Memorial Bird Feeder from Northwest Gifts is a wonderful tribute. It includes custom laser engraved inscription of name and dates on the front panel, plus your choice of art images including fishing, military, lighthouses, nature themes, and much more.
This is such a great idea. Scan the signature (and parting phrase, like “Much love, Mom”) from a handwritten letter or card, then upload it onto your order of this gorgeous Signature Handwriting Necklace.
You can also get signature/handwriting bracelets, rings, and various other styles of necklaces. See more handwriting jewelry here.
Favorite Recipe Cutting Board
Personalize a cutting board with a hand-written recipe in honor of someone who loved to cook. This is a meaningful gift that combines practical utility with delicious food, along with the memories of the loved one who made it so well.
Raise A Glass Bottle Opener
Perfect for those who lived life to the fullest, the Raise a Glass Memorial Bottle Opener includes a personalized inscription of name and dates. Every time your friend pops a bottle top, they’ll “raise a glass” in memory of their loved one.
Garden Memorial Stone
This lovely garden memorial stone is a popular sympathy gift. Like the bird feeder mentioned above, it goes outside, so it won’t clutter up the house. It’s also rather pretty and expresses a heartwarming sentiment.
What do you call the anniversary of a death? Is there another term for it?
The most common term is simply death anniversary.
Other terms and phrases people use include:
- Anniversary of Death
- Death Day
- Remembrance Day
- Commemoration Day
- Promotion Day (they were ‘promoted’ to heaven)
- [Name’s] Memorial Day