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How to Support Loved Ones On a Death Anniversary

I had never been in the room when someone died. Not only was I there, but my hands were on my Mother when, nine years ago tomorrow, she died. On Hospice, it happened in the living room of my parents’ Florida home – the one they had built for their retirement. I’ll never forget the sound of the agonizing wails that unfurled from my Father’s gut when her soul departed. She had bravely battled through Cancer twice, breast and then bone, until her final breath on January 23rd. 

We don’t celebrate events without our dearly departed. Rather, we celebrate with them in Heaven.

a wise priest

A friend of mine sent me a sweet package last week, and there was a gem of wisdom about grief in the card enclosed. She said that when her Dad died, a priest told her family that we don’t celebrate events without our dearly departed. Rather, we celebrate with them in Heaven. I’ve felt peace and assurance that my parents are with God, but my friend reminded me that my parents remain near. I’ve heard that they are with me before. But something clicked this time – changing from knowing this in a lofty theological sense into something that began to sink more into my heart.   

Reflecting on that provides an eternal outlook on the death anniversary of my Mom tomorrow. Whatever I do in remembrance of my Mom is not isolated on earth away from her, but she joins me. We celebrate together – I amidst the Church Militant (on earth) and she amidst the Church Triumphant (in heaven) – which are two of the three “divisions” of the Christian and Catholic Church.

The anniversaries of loved ones’ deaths bring up a lot of emotions for their surviving family and friends. The first anniversaries are almost always particularly painful, as the grief is still fresh. However, don’t think that just because it’s been 5, 10, or 25 years that it’s still not an emotional or even difficult day for that person. 

Grief is complex, it’s messy, and not a linear process. You don’t go from one step to the next like AA. It’s NOT something to “get over” but hopefully, it is something that we eventually learn to accept (which is much different then learn to love). Although we often focus on the emotional response to loss, grief is multifaceted. It affects the physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical areas of those mourning.

Grief touches every family, so it’s important to learn how to show support much better in this area. I’ve often felt isolated in my grief. I’ve also experienced the awkwardness of grief, people not knowing what to say or do. They may post a well-meant comment on Facebook that comes off cliché, or send a message with an, “let me know if you need anything” offer that I have no idea what to respond. Those are thoughtful gestures coming from a good place but may not actually console the bereaved. My grief was so oppressive that I didn’t have the brain focus to begin to consider specific things to ask others to do “if I needed anything.” And I did need a lot of things as I tried to clean out Dad’s apartment, make travel plans, and do my part of the funeral arrangements. Many were just simple things that suddenly felt overwhelming, like picking up groceries, cooking meals, mopping the floors, and cleaning my bathroom.

I share these to offer a few little things to do with great love when someone is grieving. Offer something specific, “Can I bring over dinner?” If they are long-distance, you could send a gift card for them to eat out for dinner. One of our friends sent me a gift card for the Spa at the Four Seasons – heck yeah, my fatigued and grieving body was dying for a massage! But, for now, let’s get into anniversaries of the deceased loved one’s death, and how to accompany the living through that.  

Here are some simple ways to support loved ones on a Death Anniversary.

1)   BE PRESENT. 

I don’t remember a lot of things that people have said to me in my grief, but I’ve remembered every single person that has shown up for me. Don’t think of things to say, just show up and be present to someone. Sit with them. Hug them. Tell them you love them. But for the love of God, please do not say anything like, “God wanted another angel to be with him in Heaven.” Um, no. See the dos and don’ts below.

The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief

  1. I am so sorry for your loss.
  2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
  3.  I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.
  4.  You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
  5.  My favorite memory of your loved one is…
  6.  I am always just a phone call away
  7.  Give a hug instead of saying something
  8.  We all need help at times like this, I am here for you
  9.  I am usually up early or late if you need anything
  10.  Saying nothing, just be with the person

The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief

  1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young
  2. He is in a better place
  3. She brought this on herself
  4. There is a reason for everything
  5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for a while now
  6. You can have another child still
  7. She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him
  8. I know how you feel
  9. She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go
  10. Be strong

{These LISTS are from grief.com

2) DO SOMETHING WITH THE GRIEVING PERSON THAT THE DECEASED LOVED.

My Mom loved to eat hamburgers and drink her favorite adult beverage, an Amaretto Hummer (basically mix vanilla ice cream + Amaretto in a blender.) My husband and I often make these things or go out to grab a good burger, on her anniversary. There’s some comfort in partaking of something that she loved, and it reminds us of her. Whether they loved playing cards, hiking, country line dancing, or watching a good comedy – find that connection to your loved ones through doing something that they loved.

3) DO AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE.

If you don’t live within driving distance of the grieving friend or family member, you can still “show up” through an act of remembrance. Here are a few ideas of an act of remembrance

  1. Go to Mass on their anniversary, have a Mass said for the person, send their loved one a Mass card
  2. Light a candle in their honor and say a prayer for their soul and their loved ones
  3. Gather a few loved ones, share stories, and release Sky Lanterns after the precious memories have been spoken

4) GIVE BACK. 

Did your deceased loved one have a favorite charity or cause? Did they have a kind of “signature act of service” such as cutting the lawn or babysitting? My Dad lived at an Assisted Living before he passed away in the hospital, so maybe stopping by to visit with the elderly in his honor. It could be sending a check to a church, school, local service organization, or favorite charity; or it could be an act of service or kindness that embodies who they were. Whatever it is, do something to give back.

Lisa Martinez is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

About Author

Creative, Entrepreneur & Silly-Heart. Christ has called her to bring the broken to His Sacred Heart. Calls Austin home with her mountain-man husband, Mike, who she loves to travel through life with as well as around the world.

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