How to Honor Someone You’ve Lost on a Death Anniversary
There’s no getting around it—death anniversaries are hard. Especially the first year after a loss, but often even years later, the day comes around and you’re left reliving the pain or feeling clueless about how to mark the occasion. It can be difficult emotionally and confusing to know how to approach such a moment. But it can be helpful along your grief journey to find ways to keep your loved one’s memory alive in a unique and upbeat manner. For those who are looking for non-traditional ideas to honor a loved one on a special day, an anniversary or birthday is a great time.
To help you in your planning, we’ve put together a list of ways to remember someone you’ve lost in a way they would’ve loved. In the process, we hope that celebrating their life with a more personal approach will also help relieve (even if only temporarily) the pain you may be feeling.
Unique Ideas to Mark a Death Anniversary
1. Gather for a special meal in their memory.
- Host your loved one’s favorite holiday meal. If they truly loved Thanksgiving, Italian Christmas Eve, or Passover dinner, invite friends and family to share that meal on any day of the year.
- If the one you’re honoring loved a good BBQ, Sunday supper, or even a boozy brunch, make that the theme for a gathering.
- If they were admired for their culinary creations, host a potluck feast, and ask each person attending to bring their version of one of a beloved dish.
- Organize a cooking party at home, in a restaurant or a local cooking school.
Regardless of what you choose, you may want to send guests home with a family cookbook filled with some special recipes, and space for them to add their own.
2. Do something good in their name.
One of the best ways to honor someone is to do something good for others in their memory.
- If your loved one was active with a particular charity or case, raise funds for an organization working in that area.
- Get a group together to volunteer at a soup kitchen, a shelter or cleaning a park. Personalize T-shirts with their name to make the day more special.
- Organize a run/walk/bike/bowling/bake sale/dance-a-thon event in their name and collect donations to help a local group. Even if it’s just a small group, the sentiment—and every cent raised—absolutely counts.
3. Honor them by getting adventurous.
These ideas aren’t for the faint of heart, but sometimes the adrenaline rush is exactly what we need to take our mind off grief for a moment. Depending on your level of athleticism or fear of (and proximity to) nature, try anything from a simple trail hike to something more intrepid like sky-diving, jet skiing or even a trapeze swing. Of course, if there was a particular adventurous sport that your loved one was passionate about, why not get out of your comfort zone? Just make sure to take all safety precautions.
4. Travel somewhere they loved.
It feels good to be in a place that was special to someone you loved and lost, because it invokes their memory and the spirit of how they lived. This may mean planning a big trip to see a spot that mattered to them. For example, where they grew up, a place they visited and often spoke about, or maybe somewhere they always wanted to see, but never got to visit. This same idea can also be carried out in a much easier way. You can choose to go somewhere local but equally special. Maybe there was a park where they spent hours painting watercolors, a river where they liked to fish, or a place where they enjoyed camping or hiking.
5. Host an annual tailgate tribute or sports activity.
Many will agree that nothing brings people together like a good sports event! If you want to make sports the theme of a gathering to mark the anniversary of a death, there are plenty of ways to do so.
- Play sports in a group. Head out for a round of golf (or mini golf), gather for a baseball (or kickball) game, or just book some lanes at the bowling alley (yes, bowling is a sport!).
- Watch a big game at home, in the stadium or arena, or at a favorite sports bar.
- Host a tailgate before the game starts and wear their favorite team colors.
- Set up a field-day or color-war-style event with lots of outdoor activities such as tug-of-war or cornhole.
6. Make it a game night.
Game nights were made to promote bonding, so why not use this activity as a welcome distraction for yourself, but also as a celebration of your dear one’s memory with a few close friends and family. You can organize something basic, like a traditional game night with board games. If you do this, either choose games that require multiple players (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister etc.) or set up a bunch of chess/backgammon/checker boards and arrange a round robin. Another option would be to have Poker or Black Jack night.
7. Get out in nature.
Fresh air is good for the soul. It restores our sense of wonder and soothes our spirits. Gather to pay tribute on a death anniversary with a group walk, a special picnic, outdoor yoga, or a camping weekend with ‘smores and stories over a bonfire or some serious stargazing. If, on the other hand, you need a minute alone, nature makes a wonderful retreat. Set an intention for your moment in the forest or at the beach or park. Make it a walking meditation, a stress-eliminating run, or a chance to sit quietly and immerse yourself in nature’s healing. Bring a journal if you like and record how you feel at the beginning and ending of your activity.
8. Host a toast.
If they liked to raise a glass, a group gathering to toast in their name can be an easy and upbeat way to spark memories and stories. Don't forget to customize some cocktail napkins with their name, their favorite sayings, or fun facts about their life.
- Host a wine tasting. Choose wines they loved or wines from meaningful years or areas of the world.
- If your loved one was more the beer aficionado, consider a pub crawl or a craft beer happy hour. Extra points for personalized glasses.
- Meet up at a fancy hotel bar and order the latest signature libations.
9. Dedicate something.
While gravesites are of course designed to be visited, purchasing a bench or other physical remembrance in their name can be a beautiful way to have another place to feel close to them. Many parks or other public spaces offer programs to dedicate plaques, trees, benches or other tributes. If you live in a small town, consider choosing a location that was personal to your loved one, such as a library or playground.
10. Pray together.
If either you or the person you loved believed in the power of prayer, why not gather for an hour or an afternoon of group contemplation? You can make this as religious or organized as you’d like. A prayer event could be as simple as a circle of chairs or a dedicated mass or service. A candle lighting vigil can be a lovely group activity, and can be done anywhere, from a place of worship to an outdoor venue or a home.
11. Plan a book club brunch.
To honor the avid reader, why not create an anniversary gathering that takes the form of a book club? Pick a book that your loved one adored or a new one by their favorite author. You could also choose a book centered around grief and healing. At the event, talk about the book and share thoughts, perspectives and memories. Then give each guest a custom bookmark as a keepsake.
12. Invite folks for an afternoon of tea and stories.
A tea-themed tribute can be as elegant or casual as you’d like.
- Brew multiple pots of your loved one’s favorite teas and set a table with mix-and-match china teacups and pretty sugar cubes.
- Serve green tea and homemade nut breads or cookies.
- Let your guests choose from a selection of teas and to make it extra-special, design a memorial mug for people to take home.
13. Create a craft circle.
There’s a reason that knitting and quilting circles are so popular. It’s nice to gather in a group to chat while enjoying a cathartic activity and creating something lovely. Whichever craft you choose, ideally, at least one person in the group knows how to do it, and can teach others. If there was a particular craft that your loved one was passionate about, try it. Spend a day decorating bird feeders or tie-dying.
Note: depending on what you create, there may be an opportunity to donate the final products to charity. For example, you can donate hand-knitted items to causes like Warm Up America or Project Linus.
14. Make an altar.
An altar doesn’t have to be religious, or even spiritual. It is simply a collection of meaningful objects that invoke the memory of the person whose death anniversary you are honoring. Making an altar can be something you do alone, or you can ask folks to bring things and treat it more as a ritual or group activity.
Arrange photos, decorations, candles, and other special things in a dedicated space such as a corner table, or a small bench in your backyard. Assemble them together as you like, taking time to hold and admire each item, and to think about (or even talk to) your dear one.
15. Make a musical moment.
Music is a powerful tool for healing and remembering, whether you choose to mark the anniversary of a death alone this year or in a group.
- Make a playlist of their favorites and spend an afternoon or evening listening to it. Hold space for whatever feelings surface.
- Host a sing-along, a drum circle, or a jam session.
- Dance, rollerskate, or just rock out to your loved one’s favorite tunes.
16. Name a star for them.
Whether they were a Star Trek lover, an astronaut fan, or just the light of your life, why not name a star after them this year? Host an evening of stories under the stars, and end with a toast and a presentation of the special star. While you cannot actually buy a star, you can name one after a loved one. Take a look at Star Name Registry or Cosmo Nova.
17. Or you know what? Maybe this year, just keep it simple and be kind to yourself.
Some years, you just need to be low key, and that’s OK. Take a deep breath, pour yourself a nice cup of tea—or a glass of whiskey!—cuddle up with their picture or a good book or movie, and just think about how much they meant to you.
Even when you’ve planned the most meaningful celebration, death anniversaries are difficult. We hope one of these ideas resonates with you and will help make the day a bit more special and less painful.
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