Much of the advice out there about how to support someone who is grieving focuses on what to do in the immediate aftermath of a loss. As the weeks and months pass, the flowers, sympathy cards, offers to send dinner and check-in calls and texts stop rolling in. But grief doesn’t have an arbitrary endpoint — it’s a lifelong process that requires long-term support.
If you want to be there for a grieving friend on their grief journey, there’s a small but meaningful thing you can do: Reach out to them on the anniversary of their loved one’s death. Mark the date in your calendar or set an annual reminder in your phone so that you don’t forget.
Kellyn Shoecraft lost her father on Feb. 6, 2004, and her sister on Aug. 9, 2017. When someone remembers to reach out to her on those significant dates, it’s “truly touching” and helps her “feel seen,” she told HuffPost.
“There’s recognition that even though one year — or 5, 14 or 32 years — has passed, it is still hard and sad to live without our person or people,” said Shoecraft, founder of the grief care package company Here For You. “Remembering the date also lets me know that my sister and dad haven’t been forgotten. And in that way, they are carried forward.”
“Remembering the date also lets me know that my sister and dad haven’t been forgotten.”
Litsa Williams is a therapist and co-founder of the website What’s Your Grief. Setting a reminder to check in on a death anniversary is something she recommends and does with her own friends and family, she told HuffPost.
“This is something I always do not just with the anniversary, but I try to always make a point to put [in] any significant dates — the person’s birthday, the wedding anniversary — any days that you know might be hard for them,” said Williams, who also co-authored the book “What’s Your Grief?: Lists to Help You Through Any Loss.”
Try not to get hung up on what to say
Obsessing over the perfect words to text your grieving friend might prevent you from pressing “send” on the message — but don’t let that happen. According to Williams, “It’s always going to be better to say something than nothing.”
“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.” she said. “Oftentimes just keeping it simple and letting them know that you’re thinking of them and that you’ve remembered that it’s a hard time is incredibly meaningful for people.”
There’s no one “right” method of reaching out either. It could be a text, an Instagram DM, an email, a phone call or a voice note — whatever feels appropriate based on this person’s preferences and how you two typically communicate.
Depending on how close you are, you can also offer to meet up with them or talk on the phone.
Williams said she might say something like: “Just thinking of you this week, I’m sure it must be tough with the anniversary of your dad’s death. Let me know if you want to get together for coffee or if there’s anything else that I could do that might be helpful or supportive this week.”
Shoecraft also suggested offering to spend time with your friend doing whatever they are in the mood for, but not taking it personally if they decline.
“Often, the thing that is the hardest for people grieving is that they don’t get to talk about their loved one as much anymore.”
You could also mark the day by making a charitable donation in their loved one’s memory, sending them a gift, doing a toast to the deceased or sharing a memory or photo of the person who passed away, she said.
Another idea? “Make a small change to your day in honor of the deceased,” Shoecraft said. “For example, if they loved cookie dough ice cream, enjoy a cone after dinner.”
Consider taking a picture to send to your friend of whatever you do to commemorate the person they lost. It may feel performative to you, but your friend will likely appreciate it.
“Photograph the toast, the sunset you’re enjoying, the coffee drink you’re sipping — whatever it is you’re doing in honor of or that reminds you of the deceased,” Shoecraft said.
And know that it’s never too late to start making this annual gesture. Even if you haven’t acknowledged the date in years past, don’t let that stop you from doing so in the future.
“I would welcome remembrance of my dad and sister — who died 19 and 5 years ago respectively — even if a lot of time has passed or if I never heard from the person before about their deaths,” Shoecraft said.
That said, you don’t need to wait for a big date to show your support
Reaching out on the death anniversary (or other significant dates) is meaningful — but so is checking in with your friend periodically “just because.”
If you happen to see or hear or do something that reminds you of the person who died, let your friend know.
Like, “The ice cream shop near my house has Fruity Pebbles as a topping. I remember your mom always putting those on her scoop of vanilla at our middle school sleepovers,” Shoecraft said.
While you might assume that bereaved people don’t want to talk about the deceased, many times the opposite is true.
“So often, the thing that is the hardest for people grieving is that they don’t get to talk about their loved one as much anymore, or they worry that other people have forgotten about them,” Williams said.
So don’t be afraid to bring up their loved one’s name in conversation, share fond memories when they come to mind and set those reminders in your phone to text your friend on the monumental days and the ordinary ones, too.