How to Mark the Anniversary of a Loved One's Death

Michele Meleen
senior woman looking at an old photo

Your grief doesn't end after the funeral and that's why people establish memorials. Choosing how to mark the anniversary of a loved one's death is a personal decision for close family members and friends. You can do the standard death-versary traditions like visiting the gravesite or creating an online memorial website, but original ideas are often more meaningful.

Simple and Inexpensive Death Anniversary Ideas

Creative ways to remember a loved one don't have to be time consuming or costly. Even with a small memorial, it's the thought and meaning behind it that truly counts. If you plan to celebrate the deceased's birthday every year or need a simple first death anniversary plan, these ideas can help spark your own creative memorial.

Request Their Favorite Songs on the Radio

Spend the day with reminders of your loved one by asking friends and family to take turns calling into a local radio station throughout the day and requesting some of their favorite songs. It doesn't cost anything to request that a specific song be played on the radio and only takes a few minutes to call in. You can also do this on your own by requesting just one song on the death anniversary.

Create a Custom Social Media Memorial Challenge

Choose their favorite social media platform and start a memorial challenge in your loved one's honor. Start by posting one picture of them with a quote or special message. Tag friends and family members to join the challenge. Each person should create one memorial post per day for the week leading up to the death date.

girl in grass holding smartphone

Host a Favorite Things Dinner Party

Mark the anniversary of a loved one's death by hosting a dinner party on their death date every year. Keep the date, time, location, and meal the same every year to create a new tradition. Serve all your loved one's favorite foods and drinks. Spend the night remembering that special person together with whoever is available that year.

Host an Annual Burial Ceremony

If your loved one was cremated, you can give them a burial ceremony every year by burying a small amount of their ashes each year. Keep all their ashes in one urn, then use special small containers to take a little bit out each year as a way to slowly say goodbye. If your loved one wasn't cremated, you can still host burial ceremonies each year only you'll bury some of their belongings in a sort of time capsule.

Complex and Expensive Death Anniversary Ideas

Sometimes spending a lot of time on your death anniversary event or keepsake can help you grieve and feel like you're giving your loved one as much time as you would if they were still with you.

  • Plan the anniversary act alone or as a group to remember together.
  • If money is not a barrier, there are lots of unique ways you can mark the anniversary of a loved one's death.
  • This purchase can be a onetime thing or something that occurs every year if your budget allows.

Host a Home Video Film Festival

Set a date, time, and location for an annual home video film festival. You'll probably spend under $100 to buy invitations, snacks, and drinks for the event. Gather all the home videos you can find along with photographs and turn them into one long movie or a bunch of small movies starring your deceased loved one. Spend the entire day watching all the home videos.

Turn Their Life Into a Book

Whether your loved one was an artist, writer, or average person, you can turn their life into a tangible book with a bit of time and optionally a bit of money.

  • Take all their artwork or personal writings and scan them into the computer so you can pay to make a self-published book for a small fee online.
  • You can use scrapbook materials to make a book that includes copies of things they wrote or quotes you pull from their social media.
  • Depending on what type of book you choose to make, this may take a couple weeks or a couple months to complete.

Create a Spiritual Family Photo

You can either hire a photographer or use a program like Adobe Photoshop for this unique project that costs anywhere from $30 to a few hundred dollars. If you've lost an immediate family member like your spouse or your child, this can be a meaningful way to commemorate their passing each year.

  • Take a standard family portrait.
  • Choose an old photo of your loved one and use technology to add a slightly transparent version of their image to the new family portrait. It will look like their spirit is in all your new family photos.
  • You'll need a couple weeks to complete the project because you have to plan the photo shoot and allow time for photo alterations.
family with ghosted image of father

Help a Species in Their Honor

You can simply donate money every year to help save an endangered species or you can take small actions every year to help local plants and creatures in need.

  • You could plant one local milkweed for every year it's been since your loved one died as a way to help Monarch butterflies.
  • You could have bat boxes or insect hotels built and customized to feature your loved one's name, then set new ones up at different locations every year.
  • Since you'll be adding to your efforts each year, this is a long-term project.

Set Up a Memorial Urn Fountain

A memorial urn fountain can cost anywhere from about $500 to upwards of $3,000 depending on the design and location you choose. The urn features a place to hold the cremains of one or more individuals that is safe from the water. You can build an urn fountain in a garden, park, or other special location with permission from the landowner and most likely a donation or payment for using that space.

Get a Memorial Tattoo

Commemorate the death anniversary of someone you love by getting a tattoo on the first anniversary of their death. This can help solidify that date as a date of remembrance especially if you include the date in the design. Tattoo ideas for remembering people include traditions and personalized symbols and can cost anywhere from $50 to $500 depending on size.

Common Death Anniversary Ideas

If a standard, or traditional, death anniversary observance is more your style, there are plenty of different events, activities, or keepsakes to choose from. Something as simple as an in-home candlelight memorial service is nice or you can opt for a larger event such as a celebration of life party, ceremony, or service.

  • Pull out the bouquet of dried funeral flowers to use as your table centerpiece for the day.
  • Wear your memorial bracelet as your only accessory.
  • Watch the tribute video made for the wake.
  • Look through old photographs alone or with others.
  • Donate to a charitable organization in your loved one's name.
  • Purchase a memorial plaque with your loved one's name on it and have it placed somewhere they spent a lot of time.

How Different Cultures Mark a Death Anniversary

Cultural and religious groups around the world have a variety of beliefs about death that include traditions for marking a loved one's death anniversary.

Jewish Mourning Ritual

Yahrzeit is a Jewish death ritual observed every year on the Hebrew date of death. Individuals observe the ritual by lighting a candle in memory of their deceased loved one, reciting Kaddish, and attending services at their synagogue.

Buddhist Mourning Ritual

Ghost month is one Buddhist death ritual used to mark the anniversary of a family member's death. Buddhists offer prayers on this day to deceased ancestors as a way to help them in their rebirth. This ceremony takes place during the 7th lunar month each year.

Mexican Mourning Ritual

The Hispanic culture of death and dying combines a variety of ideas and customs from different cultures and the Catholic faith. Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is one way Mexicans remember loved ones after they've died. Individuals create ofrendas, or alters, that showcase photographs of deceased loved ones.

Mexican day of the dead altar

Native American Mourning Ritual

The Oneida Nation has a specific Native American death ritual where the entire community gathers to honor deceased loved ones. A death feast is held once each spring and once each fall. To honor the deceased, a plate is made and set aside for them.

Hindu Mourning Ritual

Hindu death rituals include one specific way to mark the anniversary of a person's passing every year. A priest is called to perform shraddha rites in the home of a family member as long as there are male heirs in the family.

A Different Kind of Anniversary

Unlike a wedding anniversary, commemorating the anniversary date of a death can be sad and painful. Marking the anniversary of a loved one's death can be part of your grieving process and help you experience the loss of your loved one in your own way over time. While a death anniversary can be a painful date, there are also ways to fill it with happy memories.

How to Mark the Anniversary of a Loved One's Death