Marking a Death Anniversary—Remembrance Day

Losing a loved one is among the most difficult things any of us will ever have to go through. A death anniversary, deathday or Remembrance Day—the anniversary that a loved one passed—can bring up complex emotions, from sadness and anxiety to helplessness and fear. And whether a first or a 50th anniversary, it can come with an unexpected flurry of feelings.

Many people find that supporting a cause on a loved one’s Remembrance Day helps channel some of their energy and emotions into something positive. Others use a death anniversary to reflect, meditate, pray or create. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with grief, and there’s no right way to observe a Remembrance Day: Each person can do what feels right to them and what helps them through what can be a difficult time.

What should you say on a death anniversary?

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or be at a loss for words when it comes to losing someone important to you. Whether you, a family member, friend or co-worker has experienced the loss, the etiquette can be nuanced and difficult to navigate. There are as many ways to commemorate a Remembrance Day as there are people on earth. Some considerations include your relationship to the deceased and whether the communication is in person or online.

How can you support someone on a death anniversary?

To support family, friends or co-workers who have suffered losses, remember to let them know that you’re thinking about them, care about them and are there to support them. 

It can be difficult to come up with the right words to show your support. Here are some options:

  • Start your message: “This must be a difficult time for you” or “Thinking of you this week.”
  • Use the person's name: “As you remember the death of your dear sister, Mary.”
  • Share a memory if you have one: “I’ll always remember her caring and giving nature” or “Our road trip to Austin will always be one of my best memories.”
  • Let them know you care: “Our thoughts are with you,” “I’m here if you need to talk” or “Let’s grab some dinner and reminisce.”

Ideas and rituals for remembering a loved one

There are an endless number of ways to create continuing remembrances and new rituals for those we love. No single one is right for everyone. Choose what you feel best best honors and celebrate the life of the loved one. Here are some ideas for keeping the memory of someone special in your heart and mind—and for supporting others who were close to that person.

Send a sympathy card

Addressing a Letter

A sympathy card doesn't have to be relegated to a time of recent loss. A handwritten note will be appreciated on a death anniversary. If you don't know exactly what to say, we have tips.

Call and reminisce

To reminisce is to "indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events." A phone call with the sole purpose of remembering favorite memories can lift spirits and lighten a heavy day.

Text a loved one a photo or a video

Texting a loved one a photo or a video

If you have a picture or a video of the loved one on your phone, send it to your friend or family member with a sweet note. It's a fast, easy way to let someone know you're thinking about them and the person who has passed.

Flip through a photo album or watch family videos

Grandmother and granddaughter looking at old photo album at home

Visual memories can evoke an emotional expression that renews and restores. Look through old photos and videos—a wedding, a birthday party, a silly night of karaoke. All the better if you can get together with your friend or family member to share stories while doing it.

Leave a memory or condolence on their guest book

Asian mature woman using laptop

Online funeral guest books and memorial websites are virtual places you can visit again and again. Go to the loved one's obituary and leave a memory or condolence. Anyone who signed up to receive email updates will be notified and may stop by and leave one, too.

Visit the gravesite with family and friends

Family walks through the cemetery at Rose Hills.

Plan a remembrance event at the family gravesite, honoring your or your friend's family’s traditions with shared stories, memories and laughter. Take the deceased loved one's favorite food and drinks and share some time with the people who cared for that person most. Celebrate memories with a candlelight memorial—one of our providers can assist with the planning. Create a playlist of the loved one's favorite songs or prepare readings in that person's honor.

Place flowers at the gravesite or memorial

When you visit the loved one's grave or memorial, take a bouquet of fresh flowers to leave behind. If you can't visit, let us design something beautiful and place the flowers for you. Many people do this every year as part of a common ritual of remembering.

Make a donation or support a cause

Volunteers working hard at a charity construction project

Make donations to an organization that had special meaning to the loved one, such as a hospital, children’s charity or community center, food bank, shelter, Humane Society, symphony or opera. Sponsor a table at a fundraising auction or gala as a tribute, or get everyone moving with a 5K run or walk—including pets!

Volunteer your time

Organize a beach or park cleanup with friends and family. Sponsor a mile of road or highway to clean regularly or help plan and maintain a community garden. Help build a playground for a school or community center or assist with sorting and packing at a food bank.

Do something creative in their memory

Art suppies and paper

Write a song, hold a Bible study, meditate, dance or invite friends and family to a paint party in your loved one's honor.

Plan an annual tournament

An annual tournament is a great way to celebrate a person’s passion. Consider golf, bowling, softball, billiards or poker. Take donations in your loved one’s name and contribute them to charity. Create a Good Samaritan fund in his or her name to pay hospital, dental or utility bills, or sponsor holiday gifts or a giving tree for families in need.

Let someone know you care. It takes only a moment to express your sympathy to those who were closest to a loved one who has died. When you visit that person's obituary, you can leave a message or share a memory. It may seem like a small thing, but it can have a big impact on someone on the anniversary of a loved one's death.

Should you post about a death anniversary on social media?

If you would like to share your thoughts on social media, your post should be positive and reflect on your memories with that person and the feelings you are experiencing. Reading posts from other family and friends can help guide you in the tone and content of your post, but what you choose to post is up to you. Photos, memories, stories, long paragraphs, and sharing the obituary or death announcement are all common ways to post about a loved one.

It can be difficult to come up with the words to express your feelings, and we’re here to help.

  • Start your post: “Remembering” or “Thinking of Michael.”
  • Add something personal, like a story or character trait: “She was always the most organized person I knew” or “Her homemade peanut butter cookies were the best.”
  • If appropriate, add humor or a joke: “I’ll always remember that time she was looking at the turtle in the lake off the fishing pier. She leaned over too far and fell in!”
  • If you would like to share your feelings or speak to your loved one you can: “I’ve been at a loss this last year” or “You won’t believe how big Johnny has gotten.”
  • Close your post: “Missing you, sis,” “Thinking about all the fun times,” “Cheers to you” or “Until we meet again.”

If you didn’t know the deceased directly, it may not be appropriate to post on your own social media profile. Instead, post a message to the person to whom you want to express sympathy in order to share your condolences and support to those who knew the loved one who has passed.

What to avoid saying on a death anniversary

There are so many ways to tell friends and family that you are there for them on a Remembrance Day, but there are a few things that you should avoid. Although well-intentioned, comments may be interpreted as insensitive. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Focusing on yourself: Even if you feel like you can relate, don’t focus the conversation on yourself. Although you may have lost someone as well, don’t compare. Remember to hold space for your friend and let him or her talk.
  • Joking inappropriately: Some people may resort to making uncomfortable jokes, but avoid joking about someone’s death.
  • Ignoring or avoiding the conversation: If someone comes to you about their grief, don't disregard their feelings. Even if you don’t know what to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t quite know what to say” can let them know they’re being heard and that you care.
  • Asking about details: Do not ask about the circumstances behind a death if it’s not public information, and avoid talking about wills, life insurance and anything else that may be considered private information.

Ready to get started?

Speak with a Dignity Memorial planning advisor today.