Death Anniversaries

Death Anniversary

Coping During Death Anniversaries:  Ways to Commemorate Our Loved Ones

Sometimes it can be difficult to process our feelings of grief and recognize the external triggers that might call attention to these feelings of sadness, loneliness, longing, irritability or anger, despair, guilt and hurt.  A death anniversary is the date on which a loved one died and often can consciously or unconsciously rouse emotions to the surface.  On the death anniversary of a loved one, we all encounter these points in time differently and our reactions to these dates in time may or may not change over time.  

There’s No “Right” Way

For some individuals or families, a death anniversary can be a special time that one can intentionally recall memories or thoughts about a loved one who has passed or it can be a difficult day that can be hard to look back on.  There is no one right way to commemorate a loved one on their death anniversary.  Every family is different, and every person grieves in their own way.  There are so many different ways to commemorate a loved one on their death anniversary.

Some people choose to visit the gravesite, while others might choose to spend time in quiet reflection. Some might choose to do something special that the person loved—like cooking their favorite meal or listening to their favorite music.  It is also important to recognize that some years we might want to do something special, some years we might want to keep a tradition or ritual- such as lighting a candle or attending a spiritual service, and some we might want to focus on one moment at a time.

Coping Strategies

Below, we will discuss some options that may be worth considering as you navigate your own thoughts, beliefs and emotions associated with a loved one’s death anniversary.  Feel free to alter, change or add on to the suggestions below to create an action that aligns with your level of need and comfort.

  1. Spend time with trusted confidants.  

Some individuals struggle with feelings of loneliness and sadness during certain periods of the year, especially if they are related to holidays or a death anniversary. Some individuals may find it beneficial to choose to spend time with loved ones, including family, friends or people whom you feel a close connection of emotional safety with.  These might be individuals that shared a relationship with the loved one who has passed away, or these may just be people who you feel safe with in sharing your emotions.

  1. Write a letter. 

This is a great way to express your feelings and memories about your loved one.  For many of us, we might recall thoughts, words, statements or reflections that we were not able to say to our loved one while they were in front of us.  When we write a letter to a loved one, we have the opportunity to continue our bond with them as we can offer memories, updates on our lives and special sentiments that we believe they would appreciate.  This is a great way to keep your loved one a part of your life and in spiritual dialogue.

  1. Make a donation in their name. 

This is a wonderful way to honor your loved one’s memory and help support a cause they believed in.  Perhaps there is a special walk or run that you and your family decide to complete together or on your own.  Consider what was important to them and how you might want to contribute in your own way to that cause- through money or even volunteer opportunities.  This is also a way to find purpose within our grief and maintain our loved one’s spirit.

  1. Create a memorial tribute website or social media page. 

This is a great way to collect memories and photos of your loved one, and share them with friends and family.  

  1. Plant a tree or plant in their memory. 

This is a beautiful way to create a lasting tribute to your loved one using the symbolism of life, growth, transformation and strength.  This can be a great way to establish a lasting connection to your loved one over time, as you continue to care for the tree or plant.  You may also choose to add decorative stones to the tree as a memorial.

  1. Create a visual scrapbook or memory box dedicated to your loved one.

Creative expression through art is an effective way to express feelings in a nonverbal and safe way.  Using a memory box, you can contain letters, images or small memorabilia that remind you of your loved one.  If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of a memory box in the grieving process or would like to learn more about how to make one, please visit our art therapy website’s blog,, to learn more!

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