The loss of a loved one is one of the most challenging life events to process, especially for children. Facing anniversary dates of the death of a loved one can cause complex emotions to resurface. This can make it doubly difficult on parents or guardians because they must try to help their child through his or her grief while continuing to manage their own. It can be helpful to decide how to commemorate the anniversary of a loved one’s death in advance, to make it easier on everyone, especially the child(ren).
Coming up with ways to honor the life of a special person can be stressful, but the death anniversary does not have to be marked in a large, showy way. Often simple, meaningful ways are best because it can be easier to express and process emotions in a smaller setting. Starting by remembering specific things that the loved one liked to do can be a great way to come up with an idea that works for your family. For example, if your child used to make breakfast with the loved one together then doing this with them may be a great idea. If you cannot think of a specific, personal way to remember your loved one then here are a few ideas for you to consider:
- Sing or listen to a song that your loved one liked
- Watch a movie that was your loved one’s favorite or that was meaningful for the two of you
- A balloon or sky lantern release
- Read a book on grief together (list included below)
- Share your favorite memories of your loved one, even small things like how they used to sing along with the radio in the car or how they always told the same story
- Make your loved one’s favorite food
- Make a memory box or jar and write memories on slips of paper throughout the year, place them in the jar, and read them the next year on the anniversary.
- Write a letter to your loved one
- Look through family photo albums
- Make a memory bracelet
- Visit a favorite place for your loved one or for you
- Make memory stones
- Light a memory candle
- Visit the gravesite of the loved one and leave flowers
- Sew a pillow from one of their favorite shirts
It is important to remember, especially if you have more than one child, that each child may want to honor the loved one’s memory differently. This is okay. No one should feel forced to participate in an activity with which they feel uncomfortable. If one child wants to watch their loved one’s favorite movie, but another child does not, it’s okay. Try to set things up so that everyone can do what they need to do and if someone wants to sit out for part of it that is ok.
Some children may prefer not to do anything “special” or out of the ordinary to remember their loved one on the death anniversary. Some may want to go through that day following normal routines. That is fine, and it is important to allow them to do this if that is what they need. Some may prefer to do this on the loved one’s birthday instead, or not at all. That is fine. Now is the time to embrace and support one another’s needs. The important thing is that surviving family members offer support to one another. This will likely look different for some family members than others.
Here is a list of books on grief that may be helpful for children:
- “Where do They Go?” by Julia Alvarez
- “When My Daddy Died, I… Things I Miss About my Dad” by K.J. Reider
- “Wherever You are: My Love Will Find You” by Nancy Tillman
- “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst
- “Tear Soup” by Chuck DeKlyen and Pat Schwiebert
West County Psychological Associates (WCPA) has therapists who specialize in helping children process grief in appropriate, play-based ways. We also have therapists who can work with the whole family to learn how to best support one another after a loss. Please contact our office (314) 275-8599 to schedule an appointment today.
Lynette Dixon provides services to families, couples, and individuals of all ages on a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief and loss, marital concerns, addiction, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, PTSD, and other trauma-related disorders. She is a Certified Reciprocal Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and she enjoys working with individuals to overcome addiction. Lynette relies heavily on person-centered therapy, emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and cognitive therapy. She also has training in Play Therapy techniques and utilizes this approach when working with children.