How to cope with death anniversaries

Whether it has been one, five or ten years since the person you’re grieving for died, coping with a death anniversary can bring about new feelings each year. That’s why we’ve got advice to help you get through the day and remember your mum, dad or someone else close to you in a way that feels right for you. 

What are death anniversaries?

A death anniversary marks the anniversary of someone’s death. Coming face to face with the time of year your person died can be really painful. And compared to the other anniversaries you may celebrate in your life, such as your wedding or job anniversary, this day can feel daunting and scary - particularly if you’ve just got through a year of firsts without them.

Depending on your grief, and how you feel about the day, there are several different ways you can approach it. For example, some people may choose not to outwardly acknowledge the day at all. This is a common response, often because there can be so much pressure in the lead up to, on and after it. What’s important is that you are doing what feels right for you in the moment, and if that means carrying on with your routine, heading to work or distracting yourself during the day to help you get through, then that’s what you should do. 

It’s also important to remember that ignoring the day doesn’t mean that you don’t love or care about the person who died. Your grief journey will be full of many emotions and moments of reflection, and whether those moments are planned or unexpected make no difference to the validity of your grief. 

If, however, you do decide that you want to mark the anniversary, we’ve put together a list of ideas that might help you to make sense of your feelings surrounding the day. The list may make you realise that you don’t want to do anything in particular, and that’s perfectly fine. Or, it might help you start to form a plan for how to approach the day in a way that’s sensitive to you and your grief.

Remembering someone on the anniversary of their death

Here are some ideas for how you might want to spend the day: 

Visit their grave or the place where their ashes were spread 

Remembering the person you’re grieving for by visiting their final resting place is one of the more traditional ways to mark a death anniversary. Whether you go alone or as a family or group, it provides you with a dedicated period of time to reflect on both your memories with the person who has died, and on your grief journey so far. It can be upsetting, and it can reawaken painful emotions, but it can also provide a sense of comfort as you feel connected to the person you’re missing. 

Try journalling 

Using a pen and paper or a digital journalling tool to write down your feelings about the anniversary might be another way for you to mark the day. For example, you might want to write more generally about the past year, reflecting on the challenges or moments you wished the person who died was there for. Some people have also found it helpful to write down what they would say to the person they’re grieving for, so you could perhaps try that instead. 

What’s important to remember is that there’s no right or wrong way to journal; it’s a coping tool for you to use in a way that best suits you. 

Go through your memory box 

Setting aside some time on the day to go through your bereavement memory box can help you to feel closer to the person you’re missing. Whether it’s full of photos, video tapes or souvenirs from special occasions - revisiting these memories on their death anniversary can provide a source of comfort and familiarity for you on the day. 

Do something they loved 

You might want to use this day to celebrate the person you’re missing and their impact on your life, perhaps through:

  • cooking their favourite recipe
  • listening to their favourite songs
  • watching their favourite film 
  • reading their favourite book
  • wearing their go-to scent
  • going to one of their favourite places.

This can also help to remind you that just because they’re not physically here anymore, they can still be a part of your life in so many different ways. 

Embrace any anger you may feel

Grief can often feel unfair, and it can also remind us of situations where we weren’t able to express our anger with the person who has died. Despite this, anger is something that isn’t always talked about in grief.
If you’re feeling angry, it’s important to try to get in touch with those emotions. Feel the anger, exercise it and find a way to let off some steam. For example, some people do this by running, boxing, screaming into a pillow or hitting inanimate objects. Others prefer to visit rage rooms, which are places where you can engage with your rage and anger in a safe environment. And others prefer slightly more gentle ways to express their anger, such as breathing techniques or exercises. 
Depending on how you’re feeling about the anniversary, you may want to introduce one or more of these coping strategies into your day. 

Spend time with your family and friends 

If you’re worried about spending the day of the anniversary alone, or want to do something bigger to mark it this year, try reaching out to your family or friends. Explain how you’re feeling about it and what plans you have or want to make, and you’ll be surprised by just how many people want to be there for you.

“Whether it’s time for quiet reflection, or a rip-roaring, champagne-filled day of remembrance and exuberance, anything goes.”

- Anne, talking about the one year anniversary of her dad’s death in her blog for us.

Coping with one year death anniversaries

While it’s true that death anniversaries can stir up complicated feelings every year, the first one you experience after a bereavement can be particularly tricky to navigate. It comes after a year of many firsts during grief, such as your first Christmas or Eid, or first change of job, and it can sometimes feel daunting to realise a year has passed without them in it. 

If you’re struggling with the first upcoming death anniversary in your life, here’s some advice to help you get through: 

Consider taking the day off work

It can often be hard to predict how you’ll feel until the day itself arrives. That’s why you might want to consider taking the day off work if you can, as giving yourself space from your responsibilities can help to ease any pressure you may feel surrounding the day. 

Try to be open about how you’re feeling

If you’re feeling anxious about the anniversary, try to open up to people you trust. It helps them to understand how to be there for you in the best way possible, and it might even help you start to recognise why you’re feeling the way you are.
Whatever your thoughts around the day, know that there is support out there. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to someone you know, you might want to try joining our Online Bereavement Community. It’s a place where users come together to share their experiences, talk about how they’re feeling and find others who understand, and it’s free to use for anyone over the age of 18.

Plan or don’t plan: do what feels right 

Sometimes, having a plan can help you feel more confident about approaching something that’s worrying you. Our list of ideas about how to mark someone’s death anniversary might be a helpful place to start, but if nothing feels right for you, don’t worry. Sometimes having a plan can also add to the stress of the day instead. That’s why it’s important to focus on your own needs in the lead up to, on and after the day. Remember that this is your first time experiencing this, so try to be kind to yourself.