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How to grieve the first death anniversary of a loved one

The first year after the death of a loved one often arrives much faster than we imagine. When you lose someone close to you, time can feel like it speeds up and compresses; you may not even realize how much time has passed until you look at a calendar and realize the first anniversary of their death is creeping up.

While this type of anniversary may not carry the same joy as a wedding anniversary or a birthday, it’s still an important occasion for your healing journey. As it approaches, you may feel your sorrow well up all over again — or you may feel something else entirely. Grief itself can evolve over time, losing its sharp edges, developing into an ache that comes and goes. As the one-year mark approaches, it may sharpen again. 

That’s normal. The lead-up to that first death anniversary may be the hardest part, as you’re reminded of the events that occurred a year ago. By allowing yourself to grieve — even if you thought you were past this most painful stage — you’re setting the stage to continue healing. 

Six ways to grieve the first death anniversary of a loved one

1. Take time off work

Even if you feel like you’re back to normal, the first anniversary of a death can evoke strong feelings. Make arrangements with your workplace to take the day — or a few days — off so you can properly process your emotions.

2. Ask for support

The one-year passing anniversary can be hard. Even if you want to be alone during this time, reach out to friends and family in the weeks beforehand to let them know what you're going through. You may find yourself longing for the comfort of others and just knowing your loved ones are available for conversations or hugs can make all the difference. 

3. Plan a commemoration

You may feel uncertain as you head into the day. Keep yourself occupied by planning a memorial service, however small it might be. This is something you can do on your own, or you can invite other friends and family to attend. Some ideas include:

  • Visit their final resting place
  • Visit a place they loved
  • Organize a remembrance service for friends and family

4. Honor your loved one

Your loved one might be gone, but they’re not forgotten. Honoring them in even the smallest ways keeps their memory alive, and can help you feel like they’re still with you. 

  • Listen to their favorite songs: Put together a playlist of some of their favorite music and let it play throughout the day.
  • Turn to art: Sometimes spoken words aren’t enough to fully translate your feelings. That’s when you can turn to art to express your emotions and process the stages of grief
  • Cook their favorite meal: Did your loved one have a famous muffin recipe? Or maybe they never turned down fettuccine alfredo. Cooking one of their favorite dishes from scratch can help you remember them and the times you shared over a meal together. 

5. Reflect on the last year

A full 12 months have passed since your loved one has passed. What has your life been like during that time? Think about what’s happened with family and friends, with your projects, and work. Understand the impact that your loss has had on your year, and ponder what you might change or release going into the second year. 

6. Be kind to yourself

The one-year passing anniversary impacts everyone differently. Honor your loved one and yourself by treating any feelings you experience with the reverence they deserve. A significant amount of time has passed since the last time you saw your loved one; you may feel their loss all over again, or you may sense that you’ve made positive steps forward in your life. Allow yourself to be happy, sad, puzzled, and everything in between. There are no wrong emotions on this day.

Getting past the one-year passing anniversary

The poet Thomas Campbell wrote, “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” 

There is no one right way to grieve the first death anniversary of a loved one. How you feel and what you do will depend on your relationship with them and how far you’ve come in the 365 days following their departure. You may opt for a service with friends, or simply settle down on your couch and recall your favorite memories. Your action — however big or small — helps ensure that your loved one lives on.

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