16 Unique Annual Memorial Service Ideas for a Loved One


Honoring your loved one’s memory even after they’re gone is one of the best ways to feel closer to them. Love doesn’t stop after death, and that means it’s worth finding the right way to honor your loved one every year. 

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Annual memorial services are common in many cultures. Learning how to acknowledge a death anniversary can help you find peace and comfort after a loss. Taking the time each year to reflect on what someone meant to you keeps their memory alive and well throughout time. 

Everyone wants to be remembered. There’s no better tradition to create with yourself, friends, and family than an annual memorial service in honor of a loved one. To spark your inspiration, here are our favorite unique annual memorial service ideas

Annual Memorial Service Theme and Decoration Ideas

Finding a special theme that honors your loved one is at the heart of annual memorial services. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, as long as you’re choosing something meaningful for you and your loved one. When in doubt, think about what they valued most and use this as your guide. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

1. Movie night

For someone who loved to see the latest blockbusters on the big screen, host an annual movie night memorial service in their memory. This is a light-hearted idea the entire family can join in on. 

You might play a loved one’s favorite movie or explore classics in their favorite genre. There are no limits to this idea, and you can easily find new things tied to it each year. Pop popcorn, make snacks, and dim the lights for the feature flick.

2. Travel weekend

If your loved one had the travel bug, honor their wandering memory with a travel weekend in their honor. It’s common for families to travel to places that were meaningful to the deceased, and this is a great way to feel closer to someone’s legacy. 

Gather the family or just a few close friends and go on a trip. It doesn’t have to be far, but it should be somewhere that reminds you of them. It will be like they’re traveling with you. 

3. Fundraiser

Another unique idea is to host an annual fundraiser memorial. Instead of splurging on expensive decorations, flowers, and a venue, host a fundraiser for a worthy cause. This should be something related to the deceased or something they were passionate about. 

Working together as a family to raise money, do community outreach, and make the world a better place has a lasting impact. Not only will this make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, but it’s a good deed for a good cause. 

Tip: If you don't want to host an entire fundraiser, but you'd like to raise funds, you can do so with Cake's online memorial and fundraising pages.

4. Sports event

Did your loved one always love rooting for their favorite team? Gather for a sports event-themed memorial service. Whether everyone gets their sneakers on and actually participates or you just cheer on an existing team, this is the perfect annual sendoff for any sports lover. 

5. Day outdoors

Returning to nature is a powerful way to bring peace and comfort, especially after a loss. Sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded that nature is always changing and moving forward. In honor of a loved one, hold an outdoor memorial service every year.

Learning how to plant a tree in memory of a loved one is a great first step. Each year, your loved ones can visit this tree to watch as it grows. Over time, you’ll have an impressive, strong reminder of your love. 

6. Family feast

Lastly, come together as a family (or friends) over one of the best unifiers in life: food. In many cultures, it’s common to hold a feast on someone’s death anniversary. Even if this isn’t something practiced in your culture or religion, you can start a new annual memorial idea. 

A family feast is an inexpensive, fun way to gather and remember. Ask each guest to bring their own dish, or create a spread in honor of your deceased loved one’s favorite foods. For example, if they loved Mexican food, hold a fiesta complete with tacos, guacamole, and more. This is a memorial everyone will look forward to!

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

Annual Memorial Service Activity Ideas

Regardless of the theme you choose, whether it’s one of the ideas above or another out-of-the-box choice, you’ll want to have enough activities to keep the celebration going. Here are the best annual memorial service activity ideas. 

7. Volunteer

Doing good also makes you feel good. If you’re hosting a fundraiser or any other type of charity-focused event, consider volunteering together as a group. 

If your loved one was an animal lover, for example, you might choose to volunteer your time at a local shelter. Spending time doing something he or she was passionate about can make you feel closer than ever, and it’s a perfect tribute. 

8. Slideshow

Slideshows are another way to bring your loved one’s memory to life. Creating a slideshow of photos, videos, and mementos is easy to do, and it brings everyone into the remembrance. Build onto the slideshow each year, adding new memories and traditions. 

10. DIY

You don’t have to be crafty to encourage DIY creations at an annual memorial service. Not only do simply DIYs make the perfect death anniversary gifts, but they’re a great way to use a new part of your brain. 

When remembering someone you lost, it’s easy to get lost in your grief. Grief takes time, no matter how many years it’s been. Focusing on a DIY project for a loved one, whether you’re making photo frames, jewelry, or a photo album, is a great way to cultivate these emotions. 

11. Readings

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words to say. Even if you lost your loved one long ago, these feelings might still be difficult to put into words. Reading passages from poetry, literature, and prayer is one of the best ways to share and express yourself. 

12. Letter writing

When remembering someone you’ve lost, sometimes you want to speak to them more than anything. It’s the conversation that hurts the most, knowing you’ll never get the chance to tell them how you feel, what’s new in your life, or why you love them. 

Taking the time to write them a letter during the memorial service is an activity everyone can benefit from. Sharing your thoughts, updates, and feelings is one of the best ways to heal. For those open to it, reading these letters out loud is a powerful option. 

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

13. Visit the grave

If possible, visiting the loved one’s grave is the best annual tradition for a memorial service. This is an opportunity to clean the grave, spend time reflecting, and bring flowers. It’s not always possible to visit the gravesite often in our daily lives, so taking a time out is key. 

Hospice Annual Memorial Service Ideas

Hospice facilities often look for memorial service ideas to honor those who have been lost over the years. These are perfect for dedicating to all loved ones near and far. 

14. Butterfly release

While balloon releases are common, this isn’t an eco-friendly or ethical choice. A greener alternative is to hold a butterfly release at your annual memorial service. Watching the butterflies fly into the sky is not only beautiful, but it’s a symbol of change and growth. 

15. Candle lighting

Another simple option is to hold a candle lighting. In many cultures, candles represent remembrance. Lighting a candle and inviting others to do the same gives a moment of peace and reflection. 

16. Photo collage

In hospice especially, it’s important to remember people as individuals and as they were in life. A photo collage of past residents, their lives, and happy moments help bring a bit of brightness to families and caregivers. This is something that can be added to annually, a never-ending work of art and life. 

Remembering Those You Love Yearly

While you likely always keep those you’ve loved and lost close to your heart, it’s important to schedule time to honor their memories. An annual memorial service is a perfect way to bring people together in remembrance. 

From watching their favorite films to lighting a candle, there are no rules when it comes to grief. Feel empowered to choose the right memorial activities and themes for your family and your loved ones. While you’re at it, consider how you’d like to be remembered? Having these conversations while you can is an important way to craft your legacy. 

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