Should you acknowledge an anniversary after a death

As I write this, what would have been the 25th wedding anniversary for me and my husband was a few days ago. Legally, our marriage ended when his death certificate was signed. But for the person who remains, each time the calendar falls on that day, the real meaning of the word ‘bittersweet’ is painfully real.  Social media platforms like Facebook throw memories at us of every day, all viewed through the lens of posts made in prior years.

Just 10 days after that anniversary day is the anniversary of the date Chris was killed. It is the anniversary of the worst day of my life. This February 27 will mark a mind-blowing 8 years since the Wednesday night that a DUI driver killed my husband, ripped away the father of my children, stole my best friend, broke my heart, put my multiple sclerosis and basically incinerated the life we had built. Whether anyone mentions it or not, it’s a day that hurts like hell.  As much as I muddle through the year that date and a couple on each side of it, my mind ticks through the hours of those days as if they were playing on a video screen in my subconscious. Knowing others remember, are aware of it  if they didn’t know Chris, does provide some kind of solace. I don’t know official psychological terminology for why that is, but it’s the truth.  

It’s awkward to share that information with people. Yet it feels like something that deserves conversation.

When someone you know is widowed or otherwise left bereft of a significant other, it’s tough to know what to say. As time inexorably moves on, it’s extremely tough to decide when it’s appropriate to mention the death of that lost partner.  I think that generally speaking, if the situation has you thinking about the person who has died, then their surviving partner is most definitely thinking about them.


Is it OK to Say ‘Happy Anniversary’ or that I know this is the day he or she died?

After someone’s spouse dies, meaningful dates, like wedding anniversaries can be extra painful and difficult. Personally, I do appreciate when somebody remembers our wedding anniversary. I also recognize that it is typical to not know the appropriate thing to say on such an occasion . The words “happy anniversary” after a spouse has died can feel kind of awkward, because clearly it’s not :happy.”

So, what should you say?

You don’t need to shy away from the word “anniversary” because that’s what you are remembering and acknowledging. But you can recognize it without the word “happy” … Some ideas:

1. “I know your anniversary is soon. How are you doing”

Maybe this would be a more comfortable way approach the issue instead of bringing up someone’s anniversary on the actual date; You can mention it a few days ahead of time. Your loved one is probably feeling a lot of anticipation about the day.

It may help to know that loved ones are aware of its approach. Bringing it up ahead of time can help you gauge whether you should follow up on the actual anniversary date.

  1. “I realize what a sad date this is.”

You don’t need to say more than that, although of course you can if you want. Let your instincts guide you. Outside of simple acknowledgement, just say or do what feels right to you based on your relationship with the person to whom you’re talking, add perhaps your connection with the deceased. Nobody is grading or somehow ranking your effort.        

3.         “I know today is an important date. I’m always here for you.”

Saying something like this is another way to bring up the subject in a very low-key way of recognizing the importance of a particular day and making it known that you not only care but are there to listen or talk. Approaching the subject like this also gives the other person an easy opportunity to simply think you for the offer but let it drop.

4.         “I realize you’re probably missing (name) even more than usual today.”

Don’t avoid mentioning the name of a deceased person, unless for some reason loved ones request that. Trust me, you’re not going to cause more pain by mentioning the person who is no longer here with us. Whoever it is that you’re trying to comfort or protect is already very painfully conscious of that loss every single day

5.         “You know I keep you in my prayers (or thoughts).  I especially will this week (or today or tomorrow, as appropriate)

The way you express this depends on whether you or not you and the other person are or spiritual or religious. It’s not uncommon for people who aren’t particularly oriented toward any type of organized or non-organized spirituality to appreciate knowing someone is praying for them.

  1. “It’s so awful that (name) is gone. I don’t even know what to say.”

You don’t need to use special words to just say the simple truth.

Ways to be supportive on an anniversary

Sometimes actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes. You can show caring for someone in many different types of ways, such as:

·              Offer to drive your loved one to the cemetery.

·              Take your loved one out to eat.

·              Give them a single flower, bouquet or plant to brighten up their living space.

·              Ask if there is anything in particular they would like to do.

·              Go out with them and do something active like bowling couple of hours of entertainment.

·              Explore something new together like a cooking class.

·              Ask if they could use some help with anything … tackling some type of project together can be a productive and rewarding  distraction.

·              Invite them to watch with you a couple of episodes of a bingeworthy series like Outlander, Bridgertons or Downton Abby.


Don’t let your concern about not doing the correct thing prevent you from doing anything at all. It’s perfectly fine to just say something like, “ I don’t know what to do, but I know it’s (insert whatever the  occasion is) and I don’t want to ignore that.” Most of the time, that simple statement will be a very powerful and effective expression of support.

It’s really never a bad thing to show you care, no matter how you choose to do it.

1 thought on “Should you acknowledge an anniversary after a death”

  1. I found this post so useful coming from you who have experienced this grief first hand and can share what gives a little comfort on these recurring special painful dates. My brother in law lost his wife to cancer young and for the last 27 years I’ve dreaded the anniversary of his loved one as I didn’t know what to say and feared coming across as fake or a hypocrite. I have always had him over for dinner and other than mention it was because it was his wife’s death anniversary, didn’t really say anything more than treat it as a normal dinner talking about everything else. Never knew if this was the right thing to do, and always felt awkward about it. Thank you, Denise, for giving me such great insight on how it feels and how you understand how difficult it is for others to comfort you.

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