Death anniversaries are a day to set aside time, observe your loss, and honor the impact your lost loved one had on your life. From visiting their final resting place to making a playlist that reminds you of them, there are many ways to honor your loved one each year on the day that they died.1
What Is a Death Anniversary?
A death anniversary, sometimes called a remembrance day, is the anniversary of someone’s death. Many people find that death anniversaries bring up feelings of sadness and grief. While all death anniversaries may feel hard or painful, the first anniversary after someone’s death is particularly difficult.2
Not all death anniversaries will feel painful or sad. Some people find that death anniversaries offer an opportunity to reminisce and connect with others who share their loss, creating feelings of support, love, and joy.3
Marking a death anniversary is often part of the grieving process. The ritual of remembering someone on the day of their death can help ease the intensity of the grief surrounding the loss (called the anniversary effect).4 Remember, there is no right or wrong way to mark a death anniversary, and what feels right may change from year to year.
17 Ideas for Remembering a Loved One on Their Death Anniversary
There are many ways to cope with grief and remember a loved one on their death anniversary, including visiting their grave, writing them a letter, looking through old photographs, and listening to their favorite songs. Ultimately, you should practice whatever kind of remembrance feels right for you.
Here are 17 ways to remember loved ones on their anniversary of death:
1. Visit Their Gravesite or Place of Rest
Visiting your loved one’s final resting place is a traditional way to honor their death anniversary. Consider bringing flowers, and plan to spend some time reflecting on your loved one, your time together, and your love for them.
2. Write Them a Letter
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can feel cathartic.1 It can also feel like you’re communicating with them more directly. You might write about what’s happened over the past year and how it’s been without them, expressing your love for them and how you miss them. If you want to, you can save the letter in a special place. If not, you can burn or bury it.
3. Look Through Photographs
Set aside time to look through old photographs or watch old videos of your loved one. Photos and videos can help you remember the times you shared together. You might invite others who were affected by the loss to send you a photo or video they have and share the memory they associate with it.
4. Listen to Their Favorite Song
If your loved one had a favorite song or songs, play them! You might even create a playlist of songs they loved or that remind you of them and set aside some time to listen. Think about inviting others to send a song that reminds them of your loved one, too.
5. Volunteer For a Cause They Cherished
Consider spending part of the day volunteering for a cause your loved one cherished or doing some kind of good deed. You may see if others who were affected by the loss are interested in volunteering with you.
6. Donate to a Charity They Supported
If your loved one supported a charity, consider making a donation. Many charities allow you to make a note of who you would like to honor or memorialize. For non-monetary donations, consider writing a little note. For example, if you’re donating pet food to a pet shelter, you might attach a note that says something like, “Donated in loving memory of my father, who loved animals.”
7. Make Their Favorite Meal
If your loved one had a favorite dish or meal, make it in their memory. While you’re making it, reminisce about the times you made or shared the meal together. Consider plating a ceremonial portion for your lost loved one.
8. Set a Place For Them at the Table
Consider laying a place for your loved one at the table. If you’re eating with others who are affected by the loss, ask if everyone is open to going around the table and sharing a memory.
9. Attend a Service in Your Faith Tradition
If you or your loved one belong to a faith tradition, consider attending a service at the appropriate house of worship. You may also read and reflect on a passage from your religious text like a verse that your loved one liked or a passage that was written to comfort grievers.
10. Light a Candle
Whether at home or at a house of worship, light a candle in memory of your loved one. While it burns, you might say a prayer for them or reflect on a special memory.
11. Visit a Meaningful Place
Whether you shared a favorite restaurant, always met for a walk in a particular park, or have fond memories of a trip to a specific place, consider visiting on your loved one’s death anniversary. You can reminisce on the time you shared with your loved one there. You may want to invite others who were affected by the loss.
12. Travel to Somewhere They Loved
If possible, consider traveling to somewhere they loved or wanted to visit while they were alive, even if it’s farther away. Doing so evokes their memory and will make you feel close to them.
13. Gather With Others
Spending time with others who are affected by the death of your loved one can be a wonderful way to mark the anniversary of their death. Whether you gather for a meal, visit their final resting place together, or throw a party in their memory, sharing your memories and grief with others who care can feel connective and supportive.
14. Spend Time In Nature
Nature is a powerful healer. Getting outside and breathing the fresh air can help with feelings of anxiety and sadness. If possible, plan a short camping trip where you can stargaze and tell stories of your loved one around the fire.
15. Have an Annual Event in Their Honor
Try to identify something they loved to do and build an event around it. For example, if someone loved golf then have an annual golf tournament to honor their memory. It can be a chance for people to get together to remember and honor the deceased. Some may choose to make it a fundraiser, donating the money or goods collected to a cause that had personal significance to the person who has died.
16. Plant a Tree in Their Honor
Planting a tree to remember a loved one is a living and loving tribute to honor them and their memory. Planting trees to honor a deceased person is a custom in the Jewish religion. This type of memorial will be there for future generations to see. Some people like to put a plaque under the tree sharing information about the deceased and how they touched others’ lives. You may choose a location that has special meaning to the person who has died as a place for living loved ones to come to help them heal and find comfort.
17. Make an Altar
Making an altar to honor the memory of a deceased loved one has been a time honored tradition. Altars are important in many religions and cultures. It is a way to memorialize, remember, and show respect to the person who has died. It can make you feel closer to them and be a space offering comfort. Think about what types of things you want to include and how you want to decorate the space. Many people include religious items, candles, photos, gifts from a loved one, and items from that person, or things from nature like stones or flowers. Find things that bring meaning for you and don’t be afraid to add new things or make changes if you want to as you develop this space to meet your needs and mood.
How to Support a Friend or Loved One on a Death Anniversary
If someone you care about has a death anniversary approaching, consider reaching out and offering support. Support from friends and loved ones is an important factor in helping anyone grieve in a healthy way.2,3 Many people worry that by bringing it up they will upset or intensify someone’s grief, but taking the initiative to connect can help them less alone.
“On the day of the death anniversary, you can offer to do something specific for the griever without being pushy. Acknowledging that it is a day of remembrance, and saying the name of the loved one and something about the loved one we remember can be helpful. It is best to avoid saying anything that is dismissive of the griever’s feelings.” – Sherry Cormier, PhD, psychologist and bereavement trauma specialist
8 Ways to Support a Loved One
There are a myriad of ways to help a grieving friend during a death anniversary. Most important, be patient and willing to listen. Ask them if they’d like to get together, but respect if they want their privacy.
Eight ways to support a loved one on a death anniversary are:
- Send a handwritten card
- Call them or send them a text message letting them know you’re thinking about them
- Ask if they’d like to get together on or around their loved one’s death anniversary
- Offer to bring over a meal
- Ask if you can share a photo or video you have of their loved one
- Offer to drive them to visit their loved one’s final resting place or another meaningful place
- Make a note in your calendar to check in with them on other significant days such as their loved one’s birthday or wedding anniversary
- Ask if there’s anything in particular you can do that would be helpful or supportive. Remember, every person grieves differently and may need different things.
Death Anniversary Gift Ideas
The anniversary of the day a loved one has died can be a very challenging time. People are flooded with memories and emotions remembering that person, times you shared, and what it felt like when they had died and the days after. A death anniversary gift may be an unfamiliar concept, but these gifts can be meaningful ways to celebrate the person who has died and to share fond memories.
Here are some examples of death anniversary gifts:
- Plan or send a meal that includes favorite foods of the person who has died. Invite guests that were significant friends and family of the person who has died to share it together.
- If the person who died was interested in nature, give a tree or give flowers to plant in a memory garden.
- If the person who died was interested in science fiction, space, or Star Trek, give a star and name it after them.
- Creating a memory box or memory jar to remember the person who has died is a wonderful way to memorialize them. It can include photos, poems, letters, thoughts, written memories, or a list of their favorite things. You can add to it as time passes.
- A memorial candle is also a great way to remember someone on the anniversary of their death. You can have a favorite saying, quote, or memory placed around the candle.
- If the person who has died loved nature and the outdoors, a wonderful death anniversary gift is a memorial stone or rock. They can be specially designed, decorated or painted with their name, special dates, a favorite quote, or something that meant a lot to them. Having a special place to go to reflect and remember a loved one can offer comfort and healing at difficult moments.
- A beautiful, nicely framed photograph of the person who has died can be a special way of remembering them on a death anniversary.
- If the person who died loved music, gifting their loved ones with a special playlist of their favorite songs can be a beautiful way to remember them.
What to Say to Someone On an Anniversary of Death
Knowing what to say to someone who lost a loved one can feel difficult, but there are resources and standard phrases or sentiments that can be used to mark the anniversary and offer support.
Follow these steps to create a supportive death anniversary message:
- Let them know that you’re thinking about them on this anniversary of their loved one’s death
- Use their loved one’s name or family title
- Acknowledge that this may be a difficult time for them
- Share a fond memory you have of their loved one; if you didn’t know their loved one, express an understanding of how they impacted their life
- Offer concrete support
Here are three things you might write or say to someone marking a death anniversary:
- “Hi, I wanted to reach out and let you know I’m thinking about you today on the anniversary of John’s death. I know this is a hard day and that you miss him so much. I remember what a great sense of humor he had, and how contagious his laugh was. You couldn’t help but laugh too whenever he got going! I’d love to stop by to bring you a cup of coffee and give you a big hug. Is there a good time for me to drop over? Thinking of you today and sending a lot of love your way.”
- “Hey, I’m thinking about you today on the second anniversary of your dad’s death. I know you loved him so much and must be missing him extra today. If you’re free, let’s grab dinner tonight. Either way, I’m thinking about you!”
- “Hi, you are on my mind today as you’re marking the anniversary of Mary’s death. I know it’s been a really hard year and I can imagine today might feel extra sad. I have a picture of all of us from Jane’s wedding, let me know if that would be OK to send. That was such a fun and beautiful day that I’m so glad we all got to celebrate together. I know you’ve got plans today, but let’s get together soon. Are you free this weekend? Sending good thoughts your way.”
What Not to Say & Do
There are a few things to keep in mind regarding what not to say and do when supporting someone on a death anniversary. While there are always exceptions, these guidelines will help you offer considerate and meaningful support.
Here are examples of what not to say or do on an anniversary of death:
- Avoid silver-lining sentiments: well-meaning phrases like “I’m so glad he’s not in pain anymore,” “I’m glad she’s with God now,” or “At least he’s in a better place,” are invalidating. Instead, stick with sentiments that focus on your friend or loved one’s grief. You might say, “I know you miss him,” “I can imagine today might feel extra sad,” or “I know how much you love them and must miss them.”3
- Don’t say “I know how you feel”: everyone’s experience of grief is unique because everyone’s relationship is unique. Even if you both experienced the death of a parent, the loss and subsequent grief won’t be exactly the same. Instead, you might say, “I remember on my dad’s death anniversary I felt really sad. How are you feeling?”
- Don’t show up unannounced: if you’d like to stop by or bring something to your friend or loved one, call or text ahead of time
- Don’t send photos or videos of the deceased without asking first: some people may find that unexpectedly seeing the deceased in a photo or video is upsetting. Checking in with them first can help avoid that potential upset.
- Avoid generic offers of support: it can be hard for your loved one to take you up on offers like “Call me if you need anything” or “Let me know if I can do anything for you.” Instead, offer something concrete that’s easy for them to say “yes” or “no” to. You might say “I would love to call you later; would that be OK?” or “I’d like to take you to dinner soon; is Friday a good night for you?”
Is It Alright to Post About a Death Anniversary on Social Media?
One of the most positive aspects of social media is that it can be a place where friends and family can come to offer support. Posting about a death anniversary can open the door for others to share their love, photos, and memories of the person who has died. These acts can be a great source of comfort and support. In addition, you can share your personal photos, memories, or thoughts about them. For example, you can say “Today I am remembering my husband ____, who I loved to travel the world with” and show favorite travel photos. It helps to feel less alone when others share condolences, their love, and fond memories.
Finding a Therapist
Finding a therapist in an online directory or working with a trusted grief counselor can help you navigate painful feelings of loss. Doing so also allows you to honor your loved one’s death anniversary in a way that feels authentic.
Final Thoughts on Marking a Death Anniversary
Death anniversaries may be days where you experience more intense grief, even if it has been many years since your loss. That said, it’s also a day for remembrance, love, and joy. Remember to check in with yourself about what feels right.