Celebrating a Day of Remembrance for a Loved One + How to Hold on to Happy Memories after Loss

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Both of my parents passed away when I was young – my father when I was 14 and mother when I was 21. I feel at peace most of the time, but in the spring and summer, many special days come and go without them here. My mom’s birthday and anniversary of her death, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and my dad’s birthday all come in this season and makes their absence felt more keenly.

After my mom died, Brett and I decided that we wanted to create our own special family holiday to celebrate my mom & dad and honor their legacy. This is how ‘Grandma and Grandpa Day’ was born: it’s a happy day filled with their favorite things, shared memories, and carrying on their stories. Creating a holiday – this day of remembrance – has been so helpful in my grief journey. It helps me to remember to celebrate their lives and keep them very much alive in our hearts.

Today, I’m sharing all about how we celebrate our day of remembrance, plus lots of ideas and inspiration for you to remember and celebrate those you’ve lost. If you are mourning, my heart is with you. It will get better. Xo.

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Celebrate a Day of Remembrance

Embracing certain days – like a birth day or anniversary of death – instead of pushing through it – has really helped me to work through grief. I’ve reclaimed March 11th, which was my mother’s birthday as well as the day she died, and turned it into our family’s ‘Grandma Day’. On this special family holiday, we celebrate my mother – her loves, her character, what made her so wonderful, and honor her memory. This day can still be bittersweet, but being intentional about spending it celebrating her life has made it much more sweet than bitter.

On this day of remembrance, we fill the day with lots of things my mom loved: walking along the shore, green houses, gardening, hiking, breakfast food, dark chocolate, picking out new books, reading, time spent outside in nature, dancing, and helping others. This practice of remembering how she lived instead of ruminating on how she died, has been so helpful. It makes me feel so much more connected to my mother and to my own feelings, and I love that my daughters are getting a sense of who their grandmother was. They LOVE grandma day, and remember it each year!

Your day of remembrance doesn’t have to be identical from year-to-year, but I think it’s fun to have some of the same elements for continuity. For my dad, we do things like play basketball, grill for dinner, chase down an ice cream truck or visit and ice cream shop, go to an arcade, go fishing, drive with the windows down, and let the kids get slurpees (my dad was totally ‘the fun dad’ who would let us get treats and slurpees if he had to stop for gas – it was the best, and is still so fun!)

We also make a point to look at family photos and share stories together on this special day. I pull out photo albums and go through heirlooms – little trinkets from travels and earlier years – and it’s magical year after year.

Consider visiting ‘family’ landmarks. The special fishing spot my dad frequented might not appear to be significant to most people, but it held a lot of childhood memories for me. Your landmarks could be a childhood home, visiting a park you used to go to together, or having dinner at the restaurant your loved one liked best. There’s also a good opportunity to visit their resting place. Some more ‘landmarks’ you could visit on your day of remembrance:

-Their favorite walking trails
-Spots of important religious significance
-A museum with a display of art they loved
-A store you loved to visit together, or, if you’re really going all out:
-Your favorite family vacation spot

Recreate a memory. I have great memories of playing in the garden with my mom while she planted flowers and trimmed plants. I can recreate some of this with my own girls by teaching them the same things that my mom taught me in the garden. For your family this might be making a family recipe together or hiking the same trail you used to with your loved one. When you do this, you’re making old memories new again and including future generations in your family’s story.

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Use your senses to cue happy memories. A sound or a scent associated with a person or memory can bring you back in time. I love to use these senses to stir up happy memories of my parents. I look out for lilacs to smell because they remind me of the lilacs blooming in my childhood backyard. You may remember the smell of your dad’s aftershave. I know that when my mother-in-law goes, we will all remember her listening to Josh Groban as she cooked Italian food. Whatever you remember, use senses to stir up those wonderful memories.

Create a mini-shrine.

Perhaps ‘shrine’ is a bold word choice, but I’m not sure what else this would be called. I had this idea few years ago, while cleaning out my car. I remembered how my dad’s Volvo had leather interior, and how it always smelled like leather and peppermint. His center console always had a stash of Altoids mints and I would sneak a few on our car rides together. After remembering that, I went out and bought Altoids, and stuck them in the same space in my car. Whenever I open it up, I remember my dad and happy days riding shotgun with him.

My home office holds many of my mother’s momentos: a pewter letter opener that used to sit on her writing desk, a treasured antique chair that’s been in our family for generations, and a painting that she loved. When I work in this space, I feel a flood of happy, comforting memories.

When you make a ‘mini shrine’, think small, quirky things. Did your loved one have a favorite type of pen? (mine is Papermate Flair, if you were wondering), then keep a collection of them on your desk. If your mom was a perfume lover, add a few of her signature scents to your collection, even if you don’t use them – just seeing the bottles will make you think of her. I’ve found that even the smallest things can bring back big memories and add lots of joy to the everyday.

Remember (and write) their story. It is so important to keep our loved ones alive by telling their story. I really try to talk to my kids about my mom and dad in everyday settings, but especially on our day of remembrance. I love using FamilySearch to find & record our family’s genealogy. In addition to basic facts about my ancestors, you can add in details of their story. Whether you use a genealogy story or not, it’s so special to write down your family’s history. I wrote down what I remembered about my parents’ childhoods, where they went to college, how they met, their career details, hobbies, personality traits I admired, and memories I had of our life together. Every year, I’ll add more and plan on having it printed into a book with pictures once I’m satisfied with what I have.

Some ideas to get you started in recording your family history:

-What were your parents names? What were their parents names?
-Where were they born? Where did they grow up?
-Did they have siblings? What were their names & birth years?
-Where did your parents go to school?
-Did they serve in the military? Where?
-When did your parents meet? What was their courtship like? Where did they get married?
-What were some of your most cherished memories with your parents?

Do good in their honor. My mother was so compassionate, and my father had a generous heart. On their special day and always, we try to honor them by doing good – we know that’s what they would be doing if they were still here. Try connecting with a cause that was important to your loved one, whether it’s environmental preservation or working with children, you can keep their legacy of kindness alive through your own acts.

I hope you consider creating a family holiday for a loved one of your own. This really has helped me to view my tragedy as a part of our family’s story and reminds me that our love can still grow even though my parents are gone. Let me know if you tried it and how having a day of remembrance worked for you! I would love to hear how you remember and celebrate your loved ones.

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