5 Ways I’m Commemorationg My dad on his Death AnniversaryApr 25, 2023
By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav
Every year, when the flowers blossom, and the weather changes, I’m engulfed by a huge wave of grief. A yearly reminder of feeling betrayed by the sun that had the nerve to continue to shine when my whole world darkened.
Sixteen years. Holy smokes. My world has darkened and relit over and over in so many different ways.
There are few absolutes in life, such as every year on April 27, I will be another year older. And, every year, on April 28, my dad will still be dead (for another year).
While there can be many grief ambushes in life, deathaversaries (death anniversaries) are not one of them, as we know they’re coming and can sort of plan. We can choose some anchors, identify safe support people, and plan activities that will be nourishing for our hearts.
Here are 5 ways that help me commemorate my dad’s deathaversary:
1) Grieve the way that feels right to my family and me.
Every year on my dad’s anniversary, my brothers and I would text each other, “ happy dead daddy day.” This was not to make light of the fact that he is dead, but to lighten the day. I remember someone overheard us once and thought it was really morbid. Sure, maybe it is morbid, but it’s how we grieve, and what it’s important is that we actually do talk about the elephant in the room. That is a win - morbid or not. In later years, Dead Daddy Day has been shortened to D3. This year will be (D3)16. (Translation: Dead Daddy Day to the 16th power = sixteen-year anniversary). My darling engineer husband informed me that it is not mathematically correct, but, my dad dying at 52 was not mathematically correct either so I’m going with my funky algebraic expressions.
Over the years, I have learned time and time again just how important it is to grieve in the way that feels right to me. We each grieve in our own ways, and that’s not only okay, but important. We need to honor what feels right even if it feels strange to others.
2) Including my children in traditions/creating new traditions for D3 - Pizza and Mountain Dew.
My dad LOVED Italian food, specifically pizza and pasta. He also loved Mountain Dew and Coca-Cola from a glass bottle. Every year on his anniversary, we eat pizza. No matter where we are, or what we are doing, pizza will be eaten.
This serves a few purposes - it’s an anchor on a hard day, something I don’t need to decide on. Something I know we will do. And, it’s a way to feel connected to my father. It’s also a gateway to talk about him, and acknowledge the day. Some years, we don’t talk about him on his anniversary specifically (we talk about him everyday regardless) and some years we talk about him nonstop. But, there is never any awkwardness as eating the pizza always signifies that he’s remembered and on our minds.
I recently had my second daughter (4 months ago) and this will be her first D3. My older daughter, who is named after my father, will be almost 2.5 and will actually be able to enjoy some yummy pizza with me. (Full disclosure, she is NOT getting any caffeinated beverages but will get to hear all about it. And, I usually cheat and drink the diet version, but close enough).
Eating pizza with my husband and babies is very comforting for me. I’m happy to be able to include my girls in this tradition so they will always have a fun way to remember the grandfather that they never got to meet.
3) Share stories and memories and fun times.
It breaks my heart that these two little girls will never get to hear my father’s crazy laugh or see the way he raised his eyebrow in that very quizzical way that he did. It still blows my mind that he will never get to meet them. Gosh, his heart would have melted. It’s especially important to me that we share stories about him. (My husband never got to meet my dad either so it’s also important to me that he hears the stories, too).
This is a good opportunity to intentionally tell stories - the good, the bad and the ugly. Funny stories about his quirks (almost getting kicked out of a Disney movie for laughing too loudly), anecdotes about his integrity of character (standing on his head to get a patient to quit smoking), and laments about how he nagged me to no end about doing my homework, studying for the SATs, and being off the phone by 9pm.
Each year, as I do more and more of my own grief work, I also open the doors to old memories. It’s one of the biggest gifts of grief work - the freedom to remember my father and all that he was - and wasn’t.
It’s a gift in that I get to share him with my girls so that he is never forgotten and always part of all of our lives, especially those of the next generation.
4) Laugh Together
During my dad’s Shiva (week-long mourning period in Judaism), there was some serious laughter. I mean there were serious tears too, of course, but as shocking as it may seem, we laughed a lot. Sometimes we laughed and cried at the same time. People paying a Shiva call would share a funny story that we never heard or heard a million times and still get a kick out of it. We would laugh that when people asked what we needed, all we really needed were batteries and tissues. Batteries for our Gameboys (we were having intense Tetris competitions) and tissues for our tears. It really exemplifies how there’s no one way to grieve, no correct way, no absolute of emotions. And with each extreme emotion can come the opposite extreme emotion.
In the present day, we can take this time to laugh together. To tell funny stories about my dad. Or, to simply laugh together about whatever can make us laugh. I used to feel guilty when I actually felt joy again or laughed. But I realize that each time I laugh, I am honoring my dad. He would not want me to cry all the time. He would want me to enjoy life and laugh. So I do. For him. For my daughters. For me.
5) Cry (together or by yourself).
I personally don’t like crying. I think because I cried so much when my dad was diagnosed, went through treatment, and through his Shiva week. I cried enough for a thousand years. But sometimes tears are just a cathartic way for the grief to move through the body. So when I cry these days, I prefer to cry by myself with my cat, Kira (who is sitting next to me as I type this). I don’t really like company for my tears and that’s what works for me. Maybe it’s good modeling for my girls to see me cry when I’m sad, and I hope I’ll have the strength to model that one day, especially when they are older.
We can’t plan for Grief ambushes. We can’t plan for how we will feel on the death anniversaries of loved ones. However, we can have several tools and ideas lined up to fall back on. Sometimes we don’t need it. Sometimes we do. And sometimes none of our ideas/tools work and that is all part of the non-linear grief journey.
There is no one-size-fits-all for grieving. That’s what fuels Kim and me - to make grief work and support accessible to all in ways that work for them. Grief Support, coaching, journaling, grief circles, workshops, online, in-person - our goal is to have many ways of supporting the grieving community. And if we can’t help, we are fortunate to have many incredible trusted colleagues that can also open their hearts.
How do you commemorate your loved one on their deathaversary? (Note: it’s also totally okay to NOT do anything on a deathaversary. Again, it’s totally up to YOU how you grieve.)
Develop your personalized grief support action plan with our "Grief & Gratitude" workbook.
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