How To Honor The Death Anniversary Of A Loved One

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Heartbreak

As the death anniversary of my son approaches each year, I feel it in my body.

That gnawing pain in the pit of my stomach. The heaviness of my chest. The achy beating of my heart.

The anticipation of the date on the calendar can be agonizing as I start reliving losing him, like watching a movie on the big screen in my mind. It’s coming, and I can’t stop it.

Can you relate? The death of a loved one is never easy, and it doesn't seem to get any less painful with each passing year. It changes, somehow. Memories fade, our lives go on, and the pain may become more about forgetting.

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A death anniversary is an anniversary of the heart.

What I can do, I have learned, is ease my pain by honoring him on this date. Remembering him does not cause me pain; forgetting does.

The same goes for my other loved ones who have passed. Thee sister-in-law I lost to suicide. My mother, whom I lost to cancer. My father, whom I lost to heart failure. This child I lost to colon disease.

While the date of their death anniversaries become like punctuation marks on some unpleasant memories, I choose to now call these dates their “angelversaries,” or anniversaries of the heart.

Just changing the words I use changes the energy around the anticipation of the date and allows my body to respond differently, positively.

My heart longs to remember them, because my heart loved them so very deeply.

Here are 4 ways to remember your loved one on their death anniversary.

1. Wear their favorite color.

Did your loved one have a favorite color or clothing item you could wear to feel close to them? One that you know would make them smile that you thought of it? Sometimes, the most simple and subtle acts are the most personal.

My sister-in-law was known for loving the color purple. At the celebration of her life, many wore it in her honor. We released purple balloons later that evening with private messages tied to them to send to the heavens.

Since that time, I simply wear purple on her angelversary. No one I see on that day necessarily knows why. I don’t have to post about it on social media, unless I choose to. I can sit at home working on my laptop, or do a fitness class in my purple leggings and feel her presence.

I know she knows I remember her; I honor her life and love. And that’s what matters to me.

2. Prepare and enjoy their favorite meal.

Food is extremely powerful when it comes to evoking memories. All the senses are involved, and you can be transported in time to where you were and who you were with just at the mention of a particular food.

While you may not be able to fully recreate the context, you sure can conjure up some savory memories and honor your loved one by preparing their favorite meal.

My dad loved my mom’s coffee-marinated roast beef, and so did I. It was a Sunday family gathering staple. So many happy memories shared around the dining room table enjoying the roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and whatever dessert mom found a recipe for and wanted to try on us.

If it was summer, it wasn’t a complete meal for dad without some fresh sliced tomatoes from his garden. I have yet to make it as well as mom, certainly not as tender, but the smells and the flavors take me back in time allowing me to visit and remember both of them in such fond and loving ways.

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3. Make a playlist of their favorite music.

Music connects us deeply to emotion and memory. Songs that you once shared with a loved one will board you on a time-travel flight with stops at emotional destinations you may not have visited in a long time.

Be sure to choose the music to take you to the places you want to go. In other words, don’t let it hijack you.

My mother was a piano teacher in our home for most of my childhood. She also played the piano and organ for our community church for several years.

She adored the classics, but also had a fondness for artists like Elton John. Mom valued excellence in someone’s craft, and she saw Sir Elton as a phenomenal pianist.

With the Sound of Music being her favorite movie and having taken her to an Il Divo concert as one of our last activities together, making a playlist is an easy and joyful way to remember and honor Mom.

Some of the music still makes me cry, but I smile through my tears. That’s the power of love.

4. Do something fun you would have enjoyed with them.

You may find it difficult to do something you used to enjoy doing with your loved one. It’s normal to feel like you shouldn’t have fun doing whatever it is without them, but focus on the fact that you are doing this to honor their memory.

Enjoyment was part of that memory. Don’t take that away from yourself, or from what they would want for you.

My son died in infancy. I have only my dreams of what he would have enjoyed. But I do think about the age he would be and what I imagine he would enjoy each year.

I have done things as simple as going for a bike ride, shooting hoops with the neighbor kids, jumping on a trampoline, and watching a movie with a load of treats. I just know he would love Junior Mints and Toy Story as much as I do!

I find it releases my pain and brings me joy by allowing my loved ones to live on through remembrance rituals — no matter how simplistic — on the anniversary of their deaths.

Although I’ve shed many tears on these occasions, it's beautiful to remember the love and experiences I've shared (or would have liked to have shared) with each of them. You can do the same with those you’ve lost.

There’s no “right” way to grieve and no set amount of time to heal your heart.

However, if you're feeling lost and struggling to get beyond having lost a loved one in your life, reach out for professional help. While you’ll never get over losing someone, you can get through it.

There are years when I feel like ignoring the anniversary of my son’s passing. There are other years when I feel like crying all day. I’ve done both. Neither has worked.

Neither have comforted me or made me feel I had in any way honored him. The former left me feeling guilty and the latter, exhausted.

Depending on where you are in the grieving process, one of these may seem like the better choice for now. But I've learned that by choosing to acknowledge his life and to do something meaningful, I untangle my emotions.

I release the grip of grief and open myself to receive the gift his life imprinted on me.

Now, I no longer just make it through the day, I make it a special day for each of my loved ones who have passed. It doesn’t take the hurt away, but it honors who they were and what they meant to me.

Rather than be consumed with what took their life, I focus on what defined it.

Forgetting creates pain; not remembering. It doesn’t have to be public or expensive. It just has to be meaningful to you and representative of them.

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Ann Papayoti, CPC, is a life coach helping people through losses and transitions as a relationship expert. To learn how she can help you, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook.