When a loved one loses a spouse, it can be hard to know what to say. After some time has passed, it’s also difficult to know when it’s appropriate to bring up a spouse’s death. Wedding anniversaries are a good example of former happy times that are difficult to navigate.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is It OK to Say ‘Happy Anniversary’ to a Friend Who Lost a Spouse?
- What to Say On Your Friend’s Wedding Anniversary After a Death
- What You Can Do to Be There for Your Friend On Their Wedding Anniversary
Here, we delve into whether it’s appropriate to mention a loved one’s deceased spouse on their wedding anniversary. We also talk about what you might say or what actions you might take on that occasion.
Tip: Navigating anniversaries is one of many challenges one can face after losing a spouse. If you want to help your loved one through the process, consider sharing our post-loss checklist.
Is it OK to Say 'Happy Anniversary' to a Friend Who Lost a Spouse?
After someone’s spouse dies, it’s not difficult to find the right condolences for the occasion. It’s harder to know what to say on meaningful dates and occasions weeks and months after the fact. Wedding anniversaries can be particularly difficult for someone whose spouse has passed away. Now, it’s a day where someone may feel especially isolated.
A lot of people actually like it when you remember dates like their wedding anniversary. It can help them feel less alone. It’s nice to know that your spouse is remembered after death. The thing is, most people don’t want to hear the words “happy anniversary” after their spouse has died.
It’s okay to use the word “anniversary” — it’s the inclusion of the word “happy” that can be problematic (even if a lot of time has passed and your loved one is in a good place emotionally). You can acknowledge the anniversary and honor the difficulty of the day.
What to Say on Your Friend’s Wedding Anniversary After a Death
You don’t have to avoid the word “anniversary” altogether. You can mention it specifically if you think the recipient is okay hearing the word. If you’re not sure, you can always reference it more obliquely.
1. “I’m thinking of you as your anniversary approaches.”
Are you wary of bringing up someone’s anniversary on the actual date? You can mention it a few days ahead of time. Your loved one is probably feeling a lot of anticipation about the day.
It may help to know that loved ones are aware of its approach. Bringing it up ahead of time can help you gauge whether you should follow up on the actual anniversary date.
2. “I know today might be difficult. I’m here if you want to talk.”
This is another way to broach the subject of a late spouse a little more delicately. It acknowledges the significance and opens up the door for your loved one to talk about feelings.
However, it also lets your friend or loved one avoid the subject instead. Your friend can pick up the phone to call you if she does need to talk. But if she isn’t up for it, she can just send you a quick text thanking you for the offer.
3. “I know you must be missing [name] a lot today. Would you like to talk?”
Have you ever avoided saying a deceased person’s name around his or her loved ones? It’s a natural instinct. You want to avoid causing people pain, so you avoid saying names.
However, it can be really isolating to no longer hear the name of a deceased loved one. Talking about your loved one’s late partner by name is a simple gesture and a powerful one.
4. “I always keep you in my prayers, but you’ve been on my mind even more than usual lately.”
Not everyone is religious. But if your loved one is, it may help to know you’ve been praying.
Even some people who aren’t religious actually appreciate knowing that their friends are praying for them. This is definitely a sentiment best reserved for someone that you know will welcome prayers.
5. “I’m so proud of you. I know this has been a really hard year for you. You’re a really strong person.”
A lot of people like to talk about how proud a person’s deceased spouse would be. That’s one route to take. But not everyone is comfortable putting words into other people’s mouths. Instead of doing that, just talk about how you feel about your loved one.
Maybe your loved one is doing an exceptional job helping her kids cope with the loss of a parent. Maybe she’s taking a lot of time to do self-reflection and grow as a person. Or maybe she’s just doing her best to get by. Whatever journey your loved one is on, honor that. It will mean more than you know.
What You Can Do to Be There for Your Friend On a Wedding Anniversary
Words aren’t the only way you can support your loved one on a wedding anniversary. Here are some more practical ways you can help a loved one deal with a momentous day.
1. Buy a memorial gift
Try and comfort your loved one by buying a memorial gift on the wedding anniversary. A small gift that signifies that special relationship is a thoughtful gift for a widow or widower.
For instance, you could gather photos of your friend and his or her late partner together. Load those files into a digital photo frame. A gift like this will enable your loved one to easily reflect on happier times.
2. Offer to drive your loved one to the cemetery
Offer to drive your loved one to the cemetery for a graveside visit. You can explain you’re also happy to wait in the car if your loved one would like some time alone.
Sometimes people who are grieving want to be alone and also want nothing more than to not be alone. Offering to be there but also giving your loved one space is incredibly kind.
3. Take your loved one to dinner
Many people celebrate their anniversary by having dinner with their spouse. On an anniversary after a spouse’s death — especially the first anniversary — your loved one may have a hard time dining alone.
Invite your friend or loved one over to your home for dinner or take her to a new restaurant. This can help combat loneliness and help her have new memories associated with the date.
4. Send an anniversary condolence card
Even if you sent a condolence card immediately after your friend’s spouse died, you can send another card closer to the anniversary date.
You may have to go online to hunt the right kind of card down—you can find anniversary cards intended specifically for widows and widowers. The message they communicate is more akin to “happy anniversary in heaven” than a typical anniversary card.
5. Go on a trip together
Sometimes events like anniversaries can be overwhelming for people. If you think your friend needs a distraction, a change of scenery can be a good idea. Offer to take her away for a girls’ weekend.
You can explore a new place or have a spa getaway. Make it clear to your friend that you can talk about her partner as much or as little during the getaway.
Things To Say and Do on a Friend’s Wedding Anniversary
It’s not always easy to know what to say to someone going through hard times or what to say on an anniversary after the death of a spouse. It can be even harder to know what to say when those hard times have passed. Does your loved one prefer not to be reminded of that loss? Or is it comforting to talk about the person who died?
Sometimes the best thing to do is just ask directly. If you know that your loved one would like to reminisce, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Hopefully, these resources will help you figure out the best things to say or do.