On the day of the morning my sister Paula died, my mother, sister Anita and I went out for ice cream. We had been at Paula’s deathbed for a week, had barely slept, and were exhausted. When it came time for dinner we opted for our family’s comfort cure - ice cream - in lieu of other food: turtle sundaes with lots of whipped cream and a cherry on top. Now every year on Paula’s death anniversary and birthday, I have ice cream in her honor and in remembrance. This ritual - among others - feels right given my relationship with Paula and our family tradition.
Some days are more difficult than others when we are grieving. Birthdays, wedding and other anniversary days, and holidays can bring up memories, thoughts and feelings that painfully remind us of better days when the person we love was here, as compared to this day, when they are not.
Although the sense of loss often experienced on special day anniversaries can make us feel as if we are taking a step backward in the grieving process, another perspective can be to see such days as an invitation to come to terms on a deeper level with our grief. Creating flexible yet consistent special day rituals can act as a doorway to both honoring our pain and celebrating our loved one’s life.
Rituals are motivated by our deeply held values, providing a sense of connection to our best selves and our loved ones; building special day anniversary rituals entails defining and then performing activities reflective of those values. Culture, religion, family tradition and history, our unique relationship to our loved one, time after loss, and our individual preference all play a part in the honoring and celebration rituals we choose.
Many of the ideas from the blog on Acknowledging the Anniversary of a Loved One’s Death Day can be applied to acknowledging special days. Here are some additional special day rituals and activities for your consideration:
How did your loved one celebrate their birthday – and how did you celebrate it with them? Answering this question can be a great jumping-off point for honoring your loved one on their birth date anniversary. Ideas can include:
- Host a small friends-and-family birthday party in your loved one’s honor.
- Make a dinner of foods your loved one thought special; end the dinner with your loved one’s favorite cake, birthday cake or other indulgence food.
- Share heartfelt memorable stories from your loved one’s life on-line or in-person.
- Create or add to a memorial: start or add to a memorial garden objects or flowers that remind you of the time you shared with your loved one; mark the day by displaying objects of remembrance on a table with fresh cut flowers and a candle.
- Go on an adventure – do something you and your loved one always planned to do together but never did (Sky diving? Kayaking? Visit a tourist site in your home town?). Or do something alone or with others that you and your loved one did together and found enjoyable.
- At nightfall create a light show with sparklers: place the sparklers throughout the yard or in a circle and light them when darkness falls. Say prayers, tell stories, observe a moment of silence or do whatever other ritual feels right to you.
- On your birthday, acknowledge your loved one’s absence or spiritual presence with words such as: “Hi Mom, miss you. Wish you were here. I’m doing o.k. Know you are too.”
- If a loved one was a nature lover, plant a tree in their honor.
- Make, then hang, an ornament decorated with something symbolic of your loved one, such as your loved one’s favorite flower or bird, their nickname, or their favorite sports team.
- Begin a holiday meal with a candle-lighting ceremony; allow all those who are gathered to light a candle if it feels right to them.
- Begin holiday meals with a prayer acknowledging your loved one’s absence and your gratitude for them having been in your life.
- Serve your loved one’s favorite holiday food at gatherings.
- Play a song-list of your loved one’s favorite holiday music or any music you enjoyed listening to together.
- Make a donation to your loved one’s favorite charity.
- Volunteer for your loved one’s place of worship or favorite non-profit.
- Have your clergyperson say a remembrance prayer for your loved one at a service.
- Give remembrance gifts, such as: a piece of jewelry engraved with your loved one’s name or a symbol or quote your loved one found meaningful; a memory book, box or jar full of keepsakes reflective of your loved one’s life.
- For first holidays after the loss of a loved one, give family members who were closest to the deceased a care package full of renewing items such as a massage gift card, tea, chocolate, bubble bath or tickets to a holiday event.
Other Special Days
Celebratory gatherings such as weddings, christenings, and religious ceremonies marking rites of passage are often times when a loved one’s absence is most felt, and that absence may be voiced with words such as, “I wish Gram were here to share in this day.” Ritually acknowledging that wish by lighting a candle, saying a prayer out loud, or mentioning your loved one by name can be a way to honor both your loss and your loved one’s enduring legacy.