Have you lost someone in the past who was important to you? If so, you may remember a mixture of emotions on the first anniversary of the day your loved one died. Memories happened, right? They might have been reassuring and difficult — all at the same time.
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Jump ahead to these sections:
- Create a Death Anniversary Ritual or Tradition
- Listen to Songs, Poems, or Quotes that Remind You of the Deceased
- Acknowledge the Anniversary to Others with Gifts, Messages, and Reminiscing
Why not consider starting a ritual or tradition with friends and family? Here’s how to create your own ritual or tradition. We’ll offer plenty of ideas to get you started.
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Create a Death Anniversary Ritual or Tradition
Now that you know what a death anniversary is, the first step to acknowledge it is to create a ritual or tradition. Feel free to make adjustments to our suggestions to suit your guests and the person you’re honoring.
As long the event or activity reminds you of a loved one who has passed, you can consider it a success.
Take a trip
Whether you go on an annual international excursion or the destination is right up the road, it doesn’t matter. Dedicate time to get away from the office, school, or other responsibilities to allow uninterrupted reflection about your loved one. Honor him or her by reconnecting with family and friends to make new memories.
Choose a location that was significant to the decedent, such as a favorite vacation spot or a never-checked-off bucket list destination.
Cook a big meal
Did your loved one like to eat or cook? A large meal is another great way to bring family and friends together. You can turn it into a potluck featuring your loved one’s favorite dishes. Or you can all have a friendly competition to see who can cook one of your loved one’s signature dishes the best (or even the worst).
Have some fun with it. Sharing time in the kitchen can be incredibly healing and so can eating a meal together afterward. You can even enlist friends and family to come together to learn how to make a new dish, like one that celebrates your heritage. If your recipe is a success, consider keeping it with copies of your loved one's signature dishes in a recipe box like this one from Amazon.
Was your loved one a philanthropist? Did he or she benefit from an organization while he or she was alive? Use your loved one’s death anniversary as a way to give back to the community. Choose a group to connect with that your loved one could relate to.
Volunteering with a group of friends and family is a low-key way to connect on a death anniversary. However, you can always share a meal afterward and you can do a toast. Here are some tips on what to say on a death anniversary in a variety of situations.
Spend time outdoors
Did your loved one spend time outdoors, go on hikes or visit national parks? Consider doing the same thing. Getting connected to nature is a great way to ground yourself and gain some perspective.
You may feel more connected to your loved one if you visit one of his or her favorite spots. You can even sit on the porch or deck for a few hours or go for a nature walk. Invite other friends and family members and make a day of it.
Go to a favorite restaurant
Was your loved one a regular at a posh bar or ethnic restaurant? Did he or she have a go-to place for special occasions? Acknowledge a death anniversary by enjoying a meal at his or her favorite place to eat.
Splurge a little and make it feel like a celebration with wine or cake. Let the restaurant know about your annual reservation to ensure they’re always ready for you.
Do something out of your comfort zone
Was the decedent always trying to get you to branch out? Did he or she want you to take more risks? Your loved one’s death anniversary is one day per year that you can branch out. Go skydiving, go rock climbing, take a random trip to a place you’ve never been, get a tattoo, or play hooky from work for once.
Your loved one wanted to encourage you to expand on some facet of your life. Take a chance in his or her honor. You don’t have to do it alone. Enlist another friend or relative to take a leap with you.
Plan a quiet day of reflection
Are you having a hard time processing the death of your loved one? Even if it’s been years now, there’s nothing wrong with taking a mental health day to get back on track. There are many award-winning books about grief that can help you process your emotions, not simply ignore them (or worse, let them control you entirely).
Have a quiet day to yourself or with friends and loved ones. Order in or cook an easy meal together. Treat it as a snow day. Read, relax, watch movies, meditate, or exercise. Do something that you enjoy, but give yourself ample time to reflect on your loved one, too.
Have a bonfire
Having a bonfire under the stars is a great way to honor a death anniversary. Invite as many people as you’d like on a clear, cool evening. You can all gather around the fire and share memories about the decedent.
If it’s too hot for a fire, consider doing a paper lantern sendoff instead. Be sure to do so in an open space away from dry brush, houses, or other hazards.
Visit the burial site
Visit your loved one’s burial site and bring those you feel comfortable inviting or go alone if you choose. Did you scatter the decedent’s ashes when he or she died? If so, visit this location instead. Consider writing a letter to the decedent to help you process your emotions, or just have a conversation with him or her once you’re there.
Do whatever you feel comfortable doing. Just be sure to be respectful of others at the burial site. Unless the plot is on family land or the ashes are scattered in a public place, it may not be the best location to throw a loud party.
Throw a party
Consider throwing your loved one a party instead of a somber get-together. For more inspiration, you can also look into celebration of life ceremonies. Death is often a sad event for many people — but others view it as an opportunity to be grateful for that person in their lives. You can play your loved one’s favorite music, share his or her favorite foods, and be free to laugh.
Your loved one may have wanted you to enjoy your own life — and throwing a party is a great way to do that. You’re allowed to miss your loved one and grieve, but use his or her death anniversary as an outlet for positivity.
Listen to Songs, Poems, or Quotes that Remind You of the Deceased
If you wake up on a death anniversary feeling sad, consider listening to some of the decedent’s favorite music. Read his or her favorite poems or books. Watch your loved one’s favorite movies. It may not correlate to your personal taste but you might be able to laugh with friends and other family members about it.
Put on a classic rock station, listen to some soul records, and let yourself enjoy it. Try to hear it with the ears of your loved one. Turn it into a competition to see which one of your friends or family members can recite the most quotes or “isms” of your loved one.
Acknowledge the Anniversary to Others with Gifts, Messages, and Reminiscing
On a day as delicate as a death anniversary, how do you know what to say or do in every situation? The fact is, you won’t. It may even change every year. Though you may grow more cheerful or reflective on a death anniversary, another friend or family member may grow more sensitive or even bitter.
Everyone processes death differently, and you can’t fault anyone for that. Let those feelings happen — being there for them is the most important thing.
If you’d like to honor your loved one with physical gifts on his or her headstone, you can always opt for the classic option and bring flowers. You can also bring a balloon and release it above your loved one’s burial plot so he or she can “catch” it. You can also share poems or leave favorite book passages on the headstone.
Would you also like to give a friend or family member a gift on a death anniversary? If so, you can shop in a similar manner as you would for a sympathy gift.
The actual gift is less important than what the gift means — it says that you’re there if they need you. Some ideas include lending a hand around the house or yard, delivering baked goods, or getting tickets to a show or sporting event.
Discuss it with your friends and family
Be open with your friends and family members on the death anniversary of a loved one. Communicate your feelings. This may be difficult, but consider writing down your feelings if you feel like you’ll have a hard time expressing them.
On the other hand, you may not feel like talking, so don’t feel pressured to say much of anything. You may feel as though it’s your responsibility to be strong and stoic. Instead, try to see a death anniversary as a way to reflect on the positives the decedent brought to your life, rather than how you feel without them.
Death Anniversaries Can Evolve
As you learn to cope without your loved one, it’s likely that you, your family members, and friends will grow and change. Acknowledging or celebrating a death anniversary doesn’t have to be the same every year.
What makes a death anniversary meaningful is choosing to be brave enough to think about someone who isn’t there. Some years may even seem harder than others.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, finding ways to memorialize them won't be the only thing you have to consider. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.