Things to do on a Deathiversary
I never quite know what to do to celebrate a deathiversary. Yes, I get that “celebrate” might not be the best word here, especially when we’re talking about the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Wouldn’t “mourn” be a better word? Or maybe just “mark”?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve certainly mourned Shawn on his deathiversary each year, which is January 9th. But as time passes, I want to celebrate him, even though the date itself is always going to be sad for me. Still, it’s a date when I remember him, which means that I don’t want to just let it pass me by. I want to mark it. And – if I can – I want to celebrate him.
This has been my question each year. The first year, I didn’t do a very good job of planning ahead, which meant that I ended up crying in front of my 12th graders in the middle of a lecture on state sovereignty before I picked up my three kids at their elementary school and went to the cemetery, where I cried more. It was maybe just what had to happen that year.
After that, I decided I needed emotional space around that day each year. I took the day off. I spent it in nature. I went to the cemetery. I listened to the Tragically Hip.
But there are so many other things you can do. I went to Facebook to survey some of my readers, and I got so many ideas (thank you readers!). Here are ten that I really loved:
- Do your late partner’s “favorite things”: This was by far the most popular idea, and it included a number of suggestions about going to a favorite restaurant, eating a favorite food, visiting a favorite place, or doing a favorite sport. In fact, this was a big winner for widows with young kids. As one reader said, “My kids and I go to Cracker Barrel and have pancakes. I asked them the first year what the wanted to do to remember their dad, and that is what they wanted. We have done it each year since.” I love the idea of asking your kids what they want to do. (I did this on Father’s Day the first year, with great success.)
- Start or contribute to a fundraiser in your late partner’s name: It doesn’t have to be a multi-thousand-dollar legacy fund. But maybe you want to gather money to donate to the local animal shelter or to the coffee bar at the hospital for all the oncology nurses to get a free coffee. My sister has always been touched when people drop off things at the ER for the nurses there.
- Get a memorial tattoo or make another memento: Okay, it’s permanent. Still, I’ve seen some cool ones (just Google “memorial tattoo”) and I love the sentiment. But if you’re a bit nervous about tattoos (or have promised you won’t get one until you’re 78, like is the tradition in my family) you can have a special piece of jewelry made or a tree dedicated, both of which I’ve done.
- Get outside: Go for a hike or a walk on the beach or just walk to the end of your driveway and wave to a neighbor. (Claire is reading this as I write next to her and just said, “this is so cringe!” which, to be fair, is kind of true. And also, it’s one of those things that actually works so I don’t care if it’s “cringe” advice.)
- Do something nice for yourself that your partner would have wanted you to do: I love this one. It’s versatile – you might want to take the day off, get a massage, or go out with a friend and “eat dessert first” as one reader suggested. Shawn always loved to tell me to go get a pedicure, not because he cared about the color of my toes, but because he knew I loved it. Maybe I’ll do that next year.
- Gather with family and friends: This may seem obvious, though hard to remember to do if you’re feeling sad and don’t want to burden others. But I’ve found that other family members and friends also want to remember their parent/friend/child, and likely would want to do it with you, if you’re up to it. If your family is far away, you can even go visit them.
- Do something ceremonial: You might want to light a memorial candle or scatter flower petals over a special spot, or whatever else helps you mark this day.
- Take a trip: While not always feasible, some people feel like it’s better to just get away. I get this. Sometimes, it’s easier be away from the physical space you shared with your late partner, or go to a place where you can make new memories.
- Volunteer or do something for someone else: I have a friend who did this to remember her mother. On the first anniversary, she gave out homemade sweets that her mother loved. Other readers have talked about volunteering at a shelter or at an after-school program.
- Get a group of friends or family to wear/do something together: I love this one so much. Did your partner love to wear flannel? Drink a certain beer? Play a certain card game? Get everyone together to do just that. Take photos. Tell stories. Or do what one reader did: “My husband loved hot peppers and tabasco sauce so every year I ask friends and family to ‘have a shot of tabasco’ to remember him.”
I love these ideas. And also, I appreciated that some of my readers pointed out that they actively try not to celebrate the deathiversary. They might ignore it completely, or do something to distract themselves, or figure out a way to celebrate their late partner at another time like a birthday or an anniversary.
When I asked one reader how she celebrated her partner’s deathiversary, I got a really lovely note back that reminded me that not everyone wants to mark this day in the ways like I’ve noted above. Rather, she told me she doesn’t “celebrate” the deathiversary of her husband, not really. She doesn’t want to spend the day remembering her husband’s death.
Instead, she said this:
“I celebrate the day my husband became cancer free.”
I love the last comment to of celebrating the day he became cancer free.
Me too. So much.
One year is coming up next month for me. I’m thinking of going to the national mall, flying a kite with my kids and getting ice cream from a food truck. As the day approaches, I anticipate that I can’t quite know what the sadness on the day of the first anniversary of his death will feel like, just like I couldn’t predict the acute pain of the turn of the new year or the dull sadness of Father’s Day or our wedding anniversary. I imagine it will shift over the years, but this year we will likely fly a kite.
I love the idea of flying a kite. And yes, it shifts as the years go on, but the marker is always one that’s hard – even when it’s differently hard. I’ll be thinking of you as your day approaches.
This has helped for me; I write a letter, (one year I was bitter and angry, other years I was in different places) and the I would take that letter, put it into the woodstove, leave the door open, and watch it burn as I consumed the beverage of my choice. It was always a cleansing thing. Plus it keeps you warm.
I like this idea a lot – one of writing and either stowing away or actually discarding what you write. I know others who find this sort of thing really healing, too.