How to Console a Loved One on a Death Anniversary

Updated

Whenever a loved one’s struggling to cope after the death of someone they know and love, you may not know what to say when their death anniversary approaches. You may wonder if you should say anything at all to console them. Offering condolences to someone who’s grieving can be intimidating, and the fear of saying the wrong thing sometimes causes people to choose not to say anything at all. 

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Because many people don’t know how to acknowledge a death anniversary, it may be challenging to show their love and support to a loved one dealing with grief. Bereaved individuals often face depression and loneliness due to their loss. Showing up for them to let them know you care can elevate someone’s feelings of profound pain, sorrow, and loneliness. When struggling with what to say to a grieving loved one, look below for tips and guidance.

What Should You Say to a Loved One on a Death Anniversary?

Knowing how to console someone on a death anniversary can seem tricky, but it’s as simple as speaking from your heart and asking your loved one how they’ve been dealing with their loss. Although there’s no easy way to help someone grieving get past the profound pain and heartache of a significant loss, remembering a loved one’s death as the years go by can provide meaning and comfort to their survivors. 

While there isn’t anything anyone can say to change the outcome, it’s fitting to offer words of comfort and encouragement. Also, depending on the closeness of your relationship, you may consider offering physical or financial support to your loved one as well. The first few weeks and months following a significant loss can create many secondary losses that your loved one may be struggling with. Asking to see what you can do for them is thoughtful and may ease a lot of your loved one’s burdens. 

Consider keeping your condolences short and appropriate to the circumstances. For example, try offering any of the following condolences if they feel natural and sincere.

  • “You’ve been on my mind these past few days. How are you feeling?”
  • “How have you been doing these past few weeks and months? I always have you in my thoughts and prayers.”
  • “I can only imagine how much your life’s changed since your loss. What are some of the challenges you’re facing that I can help you with?”

How Else Can You Console Someone on a Death Anniversary?

Offering condolences to the people you know and love carries a lot of meaning for those dealing with the approaching anniversary of their loved one’s death. There are many ways to console someone as these significant days approach.

To lessen some of the awkwardness, fears, or anxiety you may have about reaching out to your loved one, try easing into these conversations by starting with a text message and asking for permission to make a phone call on a specific date and time. Knowing when to expect to talk alleviates the anxiety of getting caught off guard. The following are some ideas on offering condolences on a death anniversary.

1. Commemorate the life of the deceased

Helping your loved one celebrate the life and legacy of their loved one is a meaningful way of easing some of the pain and suffering the anniversary date can bring. Help remember a loved one's death anniversary day without contributing to their feelings of pain and sadness by focusing on the legacy their loved one left behind.

Plan a get-together to talk about their loved one who died, share special memories and stories, or commemorate their life and death with a plaque or garden stone etched with their loved one's name and birth and death dates.  

2. Honor their loved one’s impact on others

Comforting your loved one on the anniversary of their loved one's death can include honoring the deceased's life and the lasting impact on their family, community, and work. Consider putting together a scrapbook of notable events in the decedent's life from a collection of newspaper clippings, career milestones, achievements, awards received, and the recollections of friends and family on the deceased's impact on their individual lives.

Although gathering the details of someone's life can be a painstaking process, the result is a fuller detailing of the deceased's legacy for future generations to refer to. 

3. Offer them a gift

A remembrance gift shows your loved ones that you’re thinking of them and that you care about them and the person they’ve lost. You can decide whether to give a gift that helps your loved one cope with their grief or honors their loved one’s memory. A condolence gift symbolizes your love and support for the person grieving the loss of a loved one.

As years go by and their grief begins to lessen, you may choose a more impactful gift, such as one that marks their 10-year death anniversary. Consider any of the following condolence gifts when making your selection:

  • Graveside memorial bench
  • Upgraded headstone
  • Charitable donation in honor of the deceased
  • Grief journal 
  • Death anniversary prayer book


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4. Spend quality time with them

While many grieving individuals feel the need to be alone as they learn to adjust to their new lives after a loss, social withdrawal can indicate symptoms of complicated grief. People who struggle to accept their loss may need added support to help them get through the most challenging times of their suffering.

Help your loved one feel cared for and less alone by spending quality time with them as the death anniversary approaches. The more social support a bereaved person has, the greater the chances of getting through these emotionally demanding dates on the calendar. Spending time with them also helps them process their grief more healthily. 

5. Be a good listener

Listening compassionately to the details of your loved one's loss helps bereaved individuals process the event and accept what's happened. For some, part of the grieving process can include telling and retelling of their story of loss. Storytelling helps reshape the narrative of their loved one's death in a way that helps individuals cope with grief and process their feelings and emotions. Storytelling can also give new meaning to the death of their loved ones while expanding their legacy. 

6. Plan an outing

To avoid being overwhelmed by their suffering, bereaved individuals need to factor in breaks from their grief. As each death anniversary approaches, you may want to plan for you and your loved one to participate in a new post-loss ritual to continue year after year. One way to spend the day together is at a one-day virtual grief retreat or one that's nearby to where you both live.

Grief retreats offer opportunities for bereaved individuals to explore their grief more in-depth, ask questions, and get educated on the grief process. They also provide opportunities to meet new people and expand on needed social support. 

7. Volunteer your time together

Accept that there's nothing you can say to help someone feel better about their loss. Your loved one must go through the grieving process and related experiences in their own time. However, there are ways to provide genuine opportunities to heal from their pain and suffering. Some people struggling to cope with the death of their loved ones find comfort in helping others.

Giving their time to help out a cause supported by their deceased loved one can help them feel closer connected to them and offer an opportunity to further their loved one's legacy of charity and volunteerism. The physical output of energy also improves the body and mind by producing endorphins. Volunteering is also an activity to do together to strengthen your bond. 

8. Sign them up for an art class

Grief art therapy is a way to introduce your suffering loved one to a different approach to working through their grief. Art therapy is therapeutic and provides an outlet for the expression of grief. Typically these classes are led by a certified grief therapist experienced in helping individuals get through the many stages of grief and the effects of loss and mourning.

These classes can be fun in the right setting and don’t always necessarily focus on the negative aspects of grief. Art as a form of grief expression comes in many forms. Consider music therapy, drawing, painting, and journaling as alternatives to the more traditional types of art classes offered.

9. Offer to pray together

There's such a powerful healing force behind prayer and meditation. Depending on your loved one's religious or spiritual beliefs, consider spending quality time together at church, temple, or another spiritual place to focus on the deceased while offering prayers on their behalf.

Perhaps your loved one needs to have their faith restored after the death of their loved one, and helping them reconnect to their higher power may prove to be the added support they had been missing in their grief journey. Consider searching online for prayers specifically written for death anniversaries before meeting up with your loved one. 

10. Go on a nature walk 

The death anniversary of a loved one might prove too emotionally overwhelming for your loved one to spend the day alone reminiscing on the life they had before their tragedy. Ask them to go on a long walk or hike, so you have a chance to talk about how they've been coping since their loss.

Alternatively, offer to walk in silence until they're ready to open up, if at all. Being in nature is a form of grief therapy and allows a suffering individual to reconnect with their loved one on a more spiritual level outside of the noise and constraints of daily life. 

Processing Loss on the Death Anniversary of a Loved One

Grieving is a part of losing someone you love, or another significant part of you lost through tragedy, accident, or disaster. Death anniversaries remind us of what we once had and what was lost. For some people, death anniversaries serve as a trigger for their sorrow and grief, and for others, it marks the beginning of a new chapter of life that they must learn to accept and live through.

While there are many challenges associated with these special dates on the calendar, they can also provide hope that healing’s taking place as each year passes. 

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