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. (For more info on memory keeping after loss, see this helpful resource.)
- 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.
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