How to Celebrate Anniversaries, Birthdays and Holidays After Losing a Child

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Preparing for special dates when grieving is the key to surviving

celebrate anniversary adult child dies

The first time after my son died that I noticed an anniversary date was the next week. We found my son dead in our basement on a Sunday. The next Sunday I had a particularly bad day and I wasn’t sure why it seemed worse that day than others. It was my husband who pointed out the one-week anniversary.

As the weeks went by, the Sundays became easier until they were just like any other day. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case for every anniversary. In particular, my son’s death anniversary.

I have become quite interested in the traditions and beliefs we have about grieving and that includes our loved one’s death anniversary. In many cultures, the anniversary of someone’s death is marked by rituals and traditions. However, in North America and most western countries, we don’t.

There are also not many commonly accepted ways of handling things like birthdays and holidays, which are other types of anniversaries you can experience. These dates are all difficult to deal with and require some coping techniques.

Death Anniversary

I have heard this also called the “death-aversary.” Some have referred to it as their child’s angel birthday – the day they became an angel. Whatever you want to call it, the day your child passes away will never be just another date on the calendar.

Each year that day approaches, it will mark another day without your child and another year your child has not seen, experienced and lived.

The best way to cope with the anniversary of your child’s death is to prepare for it. Don’t ignore it and pretend it will just go away or that it won’t affect you. One way or another, it will. How you plan for it will depend entirely on you and your personality.

I was never one for letting balloons fly up in the air with messages in them or any variations of that, but for you that might be the answer. You could also try going out for a nice meal with those who are closest to you and sharing memories and stories of your child. You may also want to keep busy that day and plan events and outings so you are around people and pre-occupied. Or you may prefer to spend the day sitting at the lake and reflecting on life.

Whatever you plan for that day, remember to extend grace to yourself. If the day arrives and you simply can’t face a trip to get your nails done, then cancel it. Over time, you will learn what you need on these days.


Your child’s birthday is another date that will never go by without you remembering. Rather than making it a day of mourning for what you have lost, try to focus on celebrating their life. I was blessed for 27 years with the presence of my son. At first, I wasn’t able to remember much of the positives, but as the years have gone by, the happy times have started to come to the forefront. His laugh, his smile or that one birthday that stands out in my mind.

Celebrating your child’s life does not mean you won’t be sad, it doesn’t mean their death doesn’t matter, it just means that their life mattered too.


The way you choose to celebrate various holidays after your child dies may change over the years. The first Christmas after my son died, we put up his stocking and stuffed it with a photo, a golf ball and a small ceramic angel. These were each items that reminded us of him. On Christmas morning, we each took out what we had put in and told the rest of the family the story behind why we chose that item. It was a time of tears and mourning, but also smiles and laughter.

The second year, we decided not to put his stocking up. It was a family decision and one we were all comfortable with making. If you feel most comfortable with including your child every year, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either.

However you choose to mark the special occasions without your child, know there is no wrong way. Be honest with yourself about what you want, don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you what you should or should not do but do what feels right. You are the only mother or father your child has, and it is your privilege to celebrate those dates as you want.

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