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What’s an angelversary? A personal remembrance day

A butterfly sitting on gently-cupped hands

It’s long been a quiet tradition to light candles, visit graves, or post memorial notices to mark someone’s death anniversary.

This kind of personal remembrance day has become known as an angelversary in the US, while in the UK more and more people are talking about the sadiversary, or deathversary.

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What’s an angelversary?

An angelversary is a particularly special way for some parents to reflect love for a child or baby who has died, in recognition of their continued presence in their lives. It can also be a poignant date for people to focus on the memory of a spouse, partner, parent or much-loved family member.

“For me angelversaries are the most difficult time of year,” says Jenn Cagle-Huffman, founder of American peer-to-peer support organisation SOLOS (Survivors of Loved Ones to Suicide).

“It is ok to talk to your loved one, to scream at your loved one, or just write them a letter expressing your feelings,” she says.

On death anniversaries through the years, she has planted memorial trees, invited family and friends to balloon releases, and suggests donating a book in your love one’s name every year to the local library. Some years, too, she finds a private place to simply remember.

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When red-letter days become an angelversary

For some people, birthdays and other red letters days can be significant angelversary dates.

“It’s a measure of the sadness of death that the days when you were once happiest become the days when happiness just feels wrong,” says life coach and counsellor Jeff Brazier in The Grief Survival Guide.

“Mother’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays – any special occasion can hurt like hell, even after many years.” Jeff, who became a single dad to two young sons when their mum, Jade Goody died in 2009, says: “I’ve also learned along the way you can take the weight out of the big days by introducing a monthly day, We have ‘Mummy’s Day.’

It’s a day, he explains when his two boys decide on doing something that’s completely dedicated to their mum’s memory.

“Sometimes we do it alone and sometimes we share it with people who mean a lot to us,” he says.

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The significance of a sadiversary

Stuart Scarbrough, a widowed dad and member of peer-to-peer support group Widowed and Young described how the sadversary, as he calls it, is a time to be mindful. After finding new love, he was aware his widowed fiancee’s wedding anniversary coincided with a family holiday.

“So I got a bottle of champagne from the bar to celebrate,” he said.

“I think you can understand it more, and support each other.”

Although it’s not unusual for people to remember a one-year death anniversary, but as time goes by, writes PetesGirl77 on the Young Widow Forum, later sadiversaries can pass friends by.

“I’ve learned that people won’t remember the way we do. It doesn’t mean they don't love or care, but they don’t feel that day coming like we do,” she says.

But not everyone feels it’s something they need to share: “These dates are mine and it wouldn’t make sense honestly if people remembered them. It’s a mark of special-ness,” comments another forum member.

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What do you do on an angelversary?

There may be times that the angelversary’s when you take a day off work and have time to yourself. On others, you may want to invite friends and family to share and celebrate how much they loved that person, too.

Every loss is different and the way we grow around our grief can change our perspective on life after the death of someone we loved. The way you choose to acknowledge someone’s deathversary may change with every passing year.

So listen to your heart and do what you feel is right. If you are finding it difficult to cope, a bereavement support organisation could help, no matter how long ago your loved one died. The Samaritans are also there to listen to you whenever you need to talk.

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Some special ways to remember someone on their angelversary

Visit their final resting place

Visiting someone’s grave can be especially poignant around the time of their death anniversary or birthday. If you scattered their ashes in a place that was special to them, a trip there could be part of a day spent with other people who loved them and include a picnic with their favourite food and drink.

Release butterflies

On the anniversary of a death in summertime, a butterfly release can be a wonderful tribute for someone. You can buy butterflies bred specially for release on occasions such as a memorial, birthday or angelversary from a number of specialists online.

Write a letter, poem or blog

Although our love is constant, our thoughts, feelings, regrets and memories can change as every death anniversary passes. Writing can be a cathartic and therapeutic way of processing complicated thoughts and feelings, as well as expressing heartfelt sentiments.

You could ‘post’ a letter or poem in a tree or hidden place outdoors, share your story in a grief blog, or become part of an online support forum.

Play their favourite song

Music is incredibly evocative and certain tunes can make us catch our breath or transport us vividly back to special moments.

Listen to their song on the day you mark their death anniversary; over a glass of wine while you write, by special request on a radio show, or as part of a playlist in a get together with friends – and maybe even sing along.

Hold a special remembrance ceremony

If faith was an important part of your loved one’s life and brings you comfort, a minister may be happy to arrange for a ceremony to mark their death anniversary, or to include prayers for them in the week’s service. Non-religious occasions to mark the anniversary of a death could include a remembrance evening with words and readings, or even a tree-planting ceremony.

Take time out

A death anniversary can be a time to get away from it all. Some people choose to simply have time away away from places that hold memories on a death anniversary.

For others, a place where special moments were spent with their loved one is a poignant way of keeping them close.

Look through old letters and photos

Dig out the family albums and look through them, while you play their favourite music.

If you feel like company, you could cook a favourite meal and invite family members around to share. While everyone’s around the table, invite them to take turns dipping into a shoebox of old snaps and listen to the memories they bring back.

It could be a time to sort through and read condolence cards and letters sent to you when your loved one died, that you found a little too difficult to read, at the time.

  • Visit the Bereavement Support pages of our Help & Resources section for information about the different ways that we can grieve and the support organisations that could help, no matter how long ago your loss.