In many parts of the world where ancestors are worshipped, it is common to observe the anniversary of a loved one’s death. From Cambodia to Georgia and in the Jewish tradition, something would be amiss if a family member’s death anniversary went by without some kind of ceremony.
For many of us in the UK, things are far more ambiguous, meaning that it can be hard to work out the best way to mark a death anniversary. Losing somebody close to you is one of the most difficult challenges that many of us will ever have to face, and grieving that loss can take years.
However, marking the anniversary of a loved one’s death may feel odd or even insensitive. Is it right to memorialise the date of such a terrible event?
The very fact that you still remember your loved one is testament to the impact that their life had- and this is something worth honouring with remembrance.
Commemorating the anniversary of a death can also help those left behind to heal. After losing a loved one, reminders of that loss, such as the day’s anniversary, can trigger intense feelings of grief even years after the event and make it feel as though they died only yesterday.
These emotional flashbacks even have a name, ‘anniversary reactions’. They are part of a healthy grieving process and are very difficult to avoid, but may manifest in painful feelings of loneliness, anger and fear when they catch people unawares.
However, by gathering with friends and family or planning positive ways to reminisce about your lost loved one, you can harness these intense emotions for a commemoration that will help you focus on the good times you shared together.
Below, we’ve listed a few ideas about ways you could commemorate the anniversary of a loved one’s passing.
If you’re still at work, it could be a good idea to take the day off. You might be feeling emotionally raw, especially on the first anniversary of your loved one’s passing. Taking time off not only allows you space to process the emotions you’re facing that day, but it also gives you time to take part in activities to commemorate your loved one.
These needn’t be extravagant; something as simple as flicking through old photos could be enough to help you mark the occasion. If you lived together, consider simple activities you could do around the house to commemorate them; perhaps you could watch a show you used to enjoy together or finish a project they were working on around the house.
Even if you don’t feel up to facing your memories by planning a commemorative activity, taking a day for yourself to mourn on the anniversary off your loss is totally acceptable.
Paying a visit to your loved one’s resting place is a thoughtful way to commemorate the anniversary of their death. If you prefer to go alone, it can be an opportunity for quiet reflection; or a chance to share your memories with family.
If your loved one is buried, you could visit their grave and take a fresh bouquet of their favourite flowers, or something else which would have been special to them.
Alternatively, you could visit the place where their ashes are scattered. Depending on where this is, you could even go with family and share a picnic together, so that you can be there for each other and celebrate the memory of your loved one in a relaxed, informal setting.
If you would prefer to commemorate their life in a more formal way, you could hold a commemorative ceremony. If they were a religious person, you could arrange for a special ceremony in a place of worship. Alternatively, you could hold a secular memorial service, with readings, music and a few thoughtful words.
Sometimes having a structure in the form of a planned event can make it easier to navigate what could be an emotionally turbulent day. Having your loved one’s friends and family around serves to distract you from feelings of loneliness and provide you with support, but it is also a consoling reflection of the impact your loved one had while they were here, and all of the people whose lives they touched.
Use your loved one’s anniversary to spread compassion by donating to a cause that was close to their heart, or which could help other families from losing their own loved ones in that same way that you did.
Some people find relief in directing their grief towards something constructive, by giving money to a charity with a specific goal. You don’t have to dig deep either...giving your time as a volunteer can be even more impactful for everyone involved than donating money.
If you have the means, you might even decide to found your own charity or charitable trust dedicated to the memory of your loved one. This can be a beautiful way to ensure their memory lives on in acts of helping others.
Was your loved one a wonderful cook? A talented musician? Or perhaps their smile just had the power to light up a room.
Capture what made them truly special in a memorial keepsake that can be shared with the people who were closest to them. It's possible to get personalized books, records and photo albums printed for a reasonable cost online, so you can create a truly unique keepsake to cherish their memory.
If your loved one was a budding chef, you might compile a book with their best recipes and share it with the family. For a gifted singer, you could immortalize their demos on a custom EP; or simply print a photo album of your favourite pictures together, which you will always be able to return to.
If you are comforted by the idea of carrying your loved one with you wherever you go, you might decide to mark the anniversary of their death by investing in some memorial jewellery.
This can be anything which reminds you of them, but there are endless options available to personalise jewellery in ways that really speak to your loved one’s memory.
You might consider getting a piece of jewellery with their birthstone on it or starting a charm bracelet that you can add to over the years on the anniversary of their death. To make things even more personal, you could get a piece of jewellery inscribed- perhaps with their initials, a meaningful quote, or the coordinates of their final resting place.
A growing number of jewellers and crafters are even able to transform your loved one’s ashes into jewel-like stones, which can be incorporated into jewellery for you to wear wherever you go.
Marking the names of your lost loved one at place that was important to them can be a thoughtful way to commemorate their life and remember what it was that made them happy. It is also something which can be made as formal or informal as you like.
If your loved one was an avid football fan, you could pay to put up a memorial plaque at their club’s home ground; for a nature-loving rambler, perhaps you could place a bench overlooking their favourite landscape, for others to rest and drink in the same view they once loved.
Prefer to do things a little more low-key? You could have their name or a special message carved onto something small, such as a pebble or a piece of driftwood, and place it somewhere that was special to them.
Just as your loved one was a totally unique person, there is no one right way to commemorate them. If you can’t seem to find the right fit among the more conventional ways of remembering their life, one of the most simple ways you can pay homage is by spending the day doing something they would have enjoyed.
You might prefer to do this alone, but you could also invite those who were close to them to take part with you, and spend the day having fun and reminiscing about the good times you shared with the much-loved person whose anniversary you are out to mark.
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