Commemorating A Parent On Life's Milestones

Honoring A Deceased Parent During Life's Major Moments

Loss is a part of life, but even knowing that doesn’t lessen our pain or grief when the time comes. Losing any loved one is devastating, but losing a parent? That is perhaps one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to face. It can be even harder at certain times of the year, no matter how long has passed since their death.

Holidays were meant to be shared with our loved ones. However, just because someone has passed away that doesn’t mean they aren’t still with us. We have created a list of ways to help you can maintain the connection with your deceased parent during the most important times of your life. We hope that you can find something here that resonates or inspires you to the right choice for you.

Why We Celebrate Despite Our Grief

Grief is a winding road, difficult to travel and sometimes backtracking over the previous ground we thought we’d left far behind. Psychologists suggest there are five major stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The best way to describe them is by acknowledging the way each of them makes us feel at the moment.

After a loss, you’ve likely experienced all these emotions. And you aren’t alone in any of them. Each stage of grief represents common, painful thoughts we all go through. It’s also not always that simple though, is it? Where you are along that journey can change from week to week (or even hour to hour).

You can even feel all those emotions simultaneously at times. You may not even experience some of them at all. That’s also normal. Never worry about what you should be feeling at the expense of exploring and acknowledging what you do feel at any given time.

Healing After Loss Through The Grieving Process

DENIAL:  “This can’t be happening.”

ANGER: “It’s not fair! Why is this happening? Who caused this?”

BARGAINING: “Make this not happen. And in return, I will ____.”

DEPRESSION: “I’m too sad to do anything. I’m going to die eventually. Why bother?”

ACCEPTANCE: “It will be okay.”

However, the holidays are a time when this grief can be worsened. We feel a heightened sense of that loss on those days where we should be together. If you have a family of your own, normalizing grief can be just as important as celebrating life.

If you are a parent yourself or if you have a larger family of your own, it can be hard to look past the obvious loss and find anything positive in the holiday. However, it can be a beneficial process for your family, and yourself, to learn how to cherish the memories of your deceased loved ones so you can move forward.

There are no shortcuts to get through grief. Nor is there any limit on the time you grieve. There are, however, coping mechanisms that may help you get through the worst of your grief. With those, you may find it easier to navigate your pain without letting your grief dictate the most important moments of your life.

Milestones & Holidays To Commemorate Our Parent That Has Passed

After a loss, it can be hard to face upcoming milestones or holidays. This is especially true if you are facing them for the first time. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for the possibility of this grief is to know those emotional triggers and when they might appear well in advance. This is especially true when you find yourself facing them soon after someone you love has died.

While we have outlined ways to commemorate your loved one above, we also want to help you prepare for those occasions when you might find yourself in need of them the most.

New Year's Day

The new year often brings new beginnings. It can also be a time to reflect on our losses during the previous year. New Year's Day may be a day to carry on an old tradition from your family or create a new one in the spirit of those we lost in the last year.


As one of the most celebrated Christian holidays of the year, Easter is a time to celebrate joy, rebirth, and the promise of salvation. It is a time of joy and celebration that may be tempered with loss. It is a time of new beginnings above all else.

This may be an opportunity to reflect on the life of those who have passed away positively. Perhaps you could plan a Celebration of Life for the evening before Easter or on the day itself.

Mother's Day & Father's Day

Days celebrating our parents look different after we’ve lost one – or both – of them. For many, the best thing to do is simply ignore the day altogether. You can make plans around the day that don’t involve celebration or acknowledgment of the holiday, choosing instead to make your new traditions or even something that involves your surviving parent, if you have one. The alternative, of course, is moving forward with your celebration, choosing to commemorate the day on behalf of their memory.

In the end, you should make the choice that is the best one for you, not what you think others might expect.

Veterans Day & Memorial Day

For anyone who has had a parent in the armed forces, these two holidays often have special significance. The weight of these days is increased significantly if you have lost a parent in the line of duty.

If you have strong ties to the military, you may want to consider creating a Memorial Coin in your parent’s honor. Memorial coins like these are designed to mimic military-style challenge coins, which are commonly used in the military to acknowledge membership in a specific organization or within one.

They can be customized to include a photo and the personal information of the individual of your choice. These coins are meant to be carried in a pocket, purse, or tucked away in memory of someone special in our life. They are the perfect keepsake to share at memorial services, funerals, or even at a Celebration of Life.

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, & Christmas.

Most holidays are meant to be shared as a family. There are few things more powerful than sitting down together to share a meal. But when you’ve lost a close family member, planning dinner or festivities these days can feel hollow and lacking. You aren’t alone in feeling this way, nor should you feel as if you have to pretend otherwise. Let your grief come forward on these big holidays - but try not to let it consume you.

You may find that incorporating a new tradition, updating an old one, or simply giving yourself time apart can help more than you realize. This is the perfect opportunity to cook a favorite dish - perhaps a well-loved recipe from your parent - and reflect on the good times you spent around the table with your loved ones.

Parent's Birthday

Surviving the first birthday after a person’s death is no easy task. It may be one of the most trying days you face after the initial grief has come and gone. You may need to distance yourself from the day, at least a first, but don’t let your grief permanently keep you from finding a way to be close to your parent on the anniversary of their birth even after their death.

Parent's Anniversary

While it is easy to get lost in our own emotions regarding the death of a parent, we may often find ourselves grieving with others around us. If you have a surviving parent, they're likely struggling with the same sense of loss and grief. This can become especially obvious around an anniversary or date important to your parents and their relationship.

You might find that, on this occasion, your surviving parent will find themselves lost in grief that is perhaps even magnified significantly. We encourage you to talk to your parent not only on that day but on the days or even weeks leading up to a big anniversary or another milestone in their lives. Much like you, it’s likely he or she is struggling with that loss. You may find that they need extra care or attention on this day, even if it might not outwardly seem that way.

One of the best things you can do for both of you is to take the time to come together on this day and share your feelings. It may be difficult to talk about the deceased, especially if it is still close to the date of their passing, but it's an important part of moving through your grief. You may find that grieving together can help you both heal.


Your wedding day should be the happiest day of your life. But if you’ve recently lost a parent, your grief may be in danger of overwhelming that anticipation and joy.

One of the most common, and easiest ways to commemorate your parents on your big day is including them in the wedding program. You can also incorporate their memory into any big toasts for the day, “reserve” a chair for them on the front row (complete with a photograph), or make certain to set a place for them at the table during the reception.

There are other, more intimate ways to commemorate your parents into your big day. You can consider recycling your mother’s wedding dress, wear a piece of familial jewelry that belonged to the parent, or even use dad’s cufflinks for the day.

Baptism, Confirmation & Bar Mitzvah

Much like weddings, these are important milestones in any young person’s life. With the additional religious significance of each, it can be difficult to make it through the day without having your parent behind you to help or offer support to your children on their big days.

While your child’s grandparent may not be there in body, you can keep their spirit alive by making them a part of the dedication. Much like weddings, you can also consider having a small memorial at the reception or have a moment to toast them! For an older child, you may even consider getting them a gift from grandma or grandpa in their stead, especially if you know what they would likely have gifted themselves for the date!

15 Ways To Commemorate A Deceased Parent

Change is difficult. Change from a loss is even more difficult. Facing huge milestones in our lives after suffering the loss of a parent can be painful or overwhelming if we aren’t prepared for what’s to come. We’re here to tell you that there are ways to face these days and to help you find ways to make it through them with a sense of peace and comfort.

We’ve compiled this list of 15 unique ways to commemorate your lost loved one on these important dates that we hope will bring you solace while still practicing self-care.

1. Make A Memory Wreath

Creating something to commemorate a loved one can be a tricky thing. It can also be incredibly cathartic and worthwhile for your healing process. Memory wreaths are a great project for you to tackle solo or even with your siblings or other family members.

The creation process gives you a great opportunity to go through old photos and the memories they bring. You can choose your favorites or most memorable to use in the display.

Memory wreaths can be themed around your parent’s hobbies or something they enjoyed (i.e. fishing, sewing, hunting, books, etc). You can also use a specific holiday as a theme if it resonates with you; Christmas or Easter are great options, or you can even consider a seasonal wreath.

You can combine photos and mementos into a keepsake that you can cherish for years to come. It may bring you comfort to have the item on display at certain times of the year.

2. Create A Photo Display

If you don’t feel like you have the crafting skills (or material) to create a wreath, you might consider an alternative! Perhaps you’d like to dedicate a space on your shelf or wall to a small memorial? For that, you may want to choose a photo centerpiece for the display and surround it with smaller photos or mementos from their life, whether it is a specific piece of jewelry, an urn, or some keepsake they loved and cherished.

If you’d like to take it a step further, you can even consider having a Memorial Portrait created, which uses an existing portrait and creates an image that replicates an oil painting down to the texture of the brush strokes.

Either option is perfect for display in your home permanently or during certain times of the year. It can be a great time to reflect on your happier memories of your mother or father during those days when you place it on the shelf or when you take the time on that holiday or anniversary to reflect on each of the items you’ve chosen for the display.

3. Hold A Celebration of Life

On the first anniversary of a parent’s death, it can be important to see beyond your loss and celebrate the life of the person who has passed. It can be an important part of the healing process for you and for others who are still processing their grief. A celebration of life is a ceremony (often informal) that sets out to celebrate the life of a deceased person after their death.

It can be the perfect opportunity to gather friends, family, and anyone else close to you or your loved one together for an afternoon or evening of telling stories or sharing memories about your loved one. You can listen to songs that were their favorite or make you think of them. Maybe you – or someone else – can prepare a short speech to commemorate the person for the group and have a toast in their honor.

How To Make A Memorial Service More Like A Celebration Of Life

Celebrations of Life give you the opportunity to take a glimpse at your loved ones from another perspective, especially if you include their friends or older family members who knew Mom or Dad in their younger years. You may be surprised to discover something new about your parent that you never knew before.

4. Light A Candle

Lighting a candle in remembrance of the dead is a practice dating back to the oldest religious traditions. Early Greek and Roman cultures used candles and torches to light the way to the afterlife. In Judaism, they are called Yahrzeit candles and are burned for a full 24 hours on the anniversary of a person’s death. This tradition is popular in many Christian denominations as well, choosing to light a candle in for a loved one on holidays like Easter, their birthday, or even on the anniversary of their death.

Today, remembrance candles are popular among most Western cultures. Lit candles can be put on display for the day, perhaps placed near your favorite photo of your loved one, to show that they are still in your thoughts. For a parent, you may want to take the first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day without them as an opportunity to do just that. Lighting the candle can come with a prayer, a song, or even a few words in their memory.

Many companies, like The Comfort Company, make candle holders specific to this purpose that are engraved with sayings or verses for honoring your lost loved one. If you’d like, you can even have a custom memorial candle made to honor your loved one with a photo and personalized text.

An alternative to candles is sky lanterns. This tradition originated in China but has spread through Asia and Europe. It involves small hot air balloons made of paper that are released for an occasion or festival. You can write a message to your loved one and attach it to the lantern before you release them into the sky or if you’d prefer, float them on a lake or body of water.

5. Create A Personalized Memorial Keepsake

Memorial keepsakes are always a great way to commemorate a loved one. They come in all shapes and sizes but the best ones are those that are personalized in some way, generally combining their name, a date, or a special saying that reminds you of them.

If you’d like something to permanently commemorate your parent that lasts beyond the day, one thing you can consider is having a piece of memorial jewelry created in their honor. Personalized jewelry has been gaining popularity over the last decade and can create a small, stylish piece you can take anywhere.

One such piece is a custom thumbprint pendant. Fingerprint jewelry is, by nature, one-of-a-kind. They combine a person’s unique fingerprint with a customizable, wearable piece of art. All you need to create your own is the fingerprint of your parent (which is generally included in funeral home services) and a little imagination to create your own.

If you’d like something equally portable but not necessarily wearable, there are other options. You could consider a keychain like these Memorial Photo Keychains. These allow you to choose your favorite photo of your loved one and have it engraved on the front while allowing for further customization – a name, date, or even a quote – on the back.

6. Create A Special Ornament

As we mentioned above, Christmas is a particularly difficult time of the year to face after you’ve lost a parent. It can be a time of joy but also one of reflection and grief after a loss. Trimming the tree is an occasion that brings the family together, which can highlight that loss at this time of the year. However, there are ways to incorporate our lost loved ones into new traditions even after they are gone.

Many times, our Christmas trees are filled with memories from the ornaments we choose to the topping on the tree. We may have keepsakes handed down for generations and most carry meaningful connotations. Creating a new keepsake, like a custom ornament, will help carry your memories into the future as well.

You can create your own handmade ornament using woods or clay. If you have children of your own, you can always have them help create an even more meaningful item to hang on the tree. If you’d like to go a more formal route, you can have one made from glass or metal. You can even have a photo engraved on the front. While it might seem like a small thing, you – and your family - are sure to appreciate it for holidays to come.

7. Visit Their Favorite Place

When it comes to importance, places can often hold as many memories as any object or keepsake. Certain familiar places can hold that sentimental value just as easily as any item we possess. Sometimes, one of the best things we can do to remember our loved ones on an anniversary or birthday is simply to experience those things one of our parents loved. For many of us, there are places or events we’ll always associate with our loved ones even many years after the last time we visited.

It may be time to revisit your father’s favorite fishing spot on his birthday. For Mother’s Day, maybe you can have brunch at the restaurant she loved? It could be something as simple as buying yourself something from your loved one’s favorite boutique or shop. The importance of these places lasts far longer than just the location itself. It’s the memories we make there that count the most.

You may feel that you want to take a piece of them with you when you go. This can be anything from a small trinket, a letter, photograph, or even a small portion of their ashes. There are many wonderful options that incorporate cremains into small, portable pieces of jewelry you can take with you wherever you go. Cremation Jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes, many of which are indistinguishable from any other item of jewelry. But you will know the true importance of the piece, especially if you want a keepsake to take with you on your journey.

Wherever you go, you can always start new traditions. Bring along your loved ones – a significant other, your children, or even your best friends. After all, you know they’d love the thought of sharing their favorite place with someone new and carrying on the tradition.

8. Check Something Off Their Bucket List

While many of us might not have a formalized bucket list for ourselves, there are always things we want to do or experience before we pass on. We talk about those things, whether they be small (like taking a ride in a hot air balloon) or larger (like attending the Olympics one year) It’s likely you heard something similar from your parents growing up. There was something they wanted to do but never managed to get around to making happen. This is the chance to do exactly that.

Perhaps you plan a trip to a location they always wanted to visit. Or snag tickets to a musical artist they always wanted to see. Maybe you can even take a cooking class. Those possibilities are both unique and endless. It may not be the same as experiencing these things with them, but you may find that doing these things in their stead can give you a new sense of closure.

Perhaps, instead of a bucket list, your mom or dad had a last wish they wanted someone to fulfill. Maybe it was taking their ashes to a certain location. It could be something as simple as just paying an act of kindness forward for someone else in their name. An amazing example of that comes in the form of Aaron’s Last Wish, where a person's last request turned into a nationwide movement. You can find out more about it at

9. Support Their Cause

What did Mom or Dad really care about? Odds are they had something (or perhaps many things) they were passionate about. Many times, you’ll easily find you can gift your time or your money to a cause they were invested in.

Was dad an animal lover? Maybe take a weekend to help at your local animal shelter or donate money or supplies they likely need. What about a teacher? Organizations like Donors Choose connect you to classrooms that desperately need supplies like books, crayons, or funding for field trips so you can help make students and teachers alike! Did they love the great outdoors? You can always donate a few hours to help pick up litter or doing park maintenance at any outdoor space they loved.

This can be especially powerful if you had a parent who was a veteran in the armed services. There are a number of worthy Veteran-focused organizations that could always use your support. These groups support both military servicemen and their families, often even after their service has ended. Perhaps for Veteran’s Day, you can donate in their name.

For anything you donate – whether it’s time or money – you can always be sure to do so in their name. It’s something meaningful for you, all the people you help, and also it keeps their legacy alive for others to appreciate the kind of person they were.

10. Immortalize Their Handwriting

For many of us, our parents were old-fashioned and liked to leave hand-written notes or cards. It’s likely we still have some of them lying around, tucked in old notebooks, or even displayed on the fridge. You may want to take that smaller piece of paper and have it framed somewhere in your home. You can include it in a larger display (or a photo wreath like the ones mentioned above) or simply keep it somewhere close by.

You can even use a recipe card of your mother’s favorite dish (or your favorite that she made just for you) printed in her handwriting or that hastily penned note your father left on your last birthday card. If it’s a smaller piece, you can have it framed with a photo of the two of your together.

There are even skilled craftsmen who can take a small piece of handwriting and turn it into a lovely and meaningful piece of jewelry that will last forever. You can have a small phrase or even a name immortalized in a stylish bracelet or a small pendant if that is more your style.

Not only do these make great keepsakes, but they can also be fantastic openers for you to reflect on your favorite memories of your parent when someone asks about the unique piece.

11. Host A Dinner In Their Honor

Food can be a powerful trigger for memories. For many, mealtime is tied to fond memories of people and family times shared. Even after your loved one has passed on, you can still capture those feelings by hosting a dinner gathering of your own. This is the perfect opportunity to cook their favorite meal or share a recipe you loved as a kid with your family.

Recreating one of Mom or Dad’s favorite dishes can give you the opportunity to reflect on the best times together as well as give you a chance to sit down with your own family at the end of the day. For this occasion, you can set a place at the table for them complete with a framed photo if you’d like to honor them that way.

Much like a Celebration of Life, you can take the evening to share stories and to talk about how those moments that matter most. For a day like St. Patrick’s Day, you can always take a moment at the end of dinner to hold a toast in their honor using their beverage of choice. What better way to bring your family together than with good food and better company?

12. Write A Tribute

Sometimes the best way to commemorate our deceased loved ones is to share our memories of them with others. We can always talk about them to friends and family but sometimes the best (and most cathartic) way to do that is in a public forum like a newspaper or website. You know how amazing they were in life; why wouldn’t you want to share that with others?

This can be especially meaningful as we draw close to a particularly meaningful anniversary or holiday. Contact your local newspaper as you near the holiday. Often, you’ll find that they are actively looking for stories that feature people within the community. It’s the perfect opportunity to share their life and accomplishments with people who may have known them, even if only casually.

You can also reach out to any websites or blogs that host guest writers; many of them welcome posts such a these at certain times of the year. Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or even Christmas would be ideal times for you to reach out.

You may be surprised at how much learning about someone else’s life can touch someone else who is also grieving for a parented or lost loved one, too.

13. Write A Letter

If you’d like to keep your thoughts more private, you can always simply write them a letter. After losing a parent, one of the most difficult aspects of grief to conquer is simply the loss of communication with that person, especially if the two of you were close. Who doesn’t want their parent there with them on a special day – like a wedding or confirmation? It is often these times that we feel the most loss and hurt.

This may be a good time to simply sit down and write out your feelings. You can use the letter as a way to update them on your life, your thoughts and feelings, and how much you miss them. You can even ask for advice. Sometimes, it helps just to put the words on the page.

Writing Letters As A Form Of Grieving

You can put that letter in an envelope and tuck it aside. You can read it aloud at a gathering. You can even burn it and release the words. However you choose to let those feelings out, there is no wrong way to communicate how you feel.

14. Plant A Tree

Did your parent have a green thumb? Or perhaps they enjoyed gardening or the outdoors? It might be time to step out into the garden – or the forest – and get your hands dirty for the day. As conservation efforts turn to more green approaches to living with nature, planting trees in memory of a deceased loved one has also gained popularity! What happens if you live in an urban area? You can do this through organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation or similar groups with a few clicks of a button.

If you want to do this yourself, oak trees are among the most popular for this task. However, you may have to take your geographic location and outdoor access into consideration. Many people choose to create a remembrance tree, combining some of their loved one’s ashes (or even an entire urn) into the base of the tree.

If a tree isn’t feasible, you can always plant flowers, create a small memorial garden, or even nurture a houseplant in their honor.

15. Start A Tradition

Sometimes the past can be painful, especially when all your memories center around someone you’ve lost. Holidays are especially so when you are not prepared to handle them without them. This year, it may be time to leave all of that behind when the next holiday looms before you. If the thought of doing things the same way you’ve always done – cooking a big Christmas dinner, spending Father’s Day fishing, going to Easter Services – feels you with dread, it might be time to do something new.

Perhaps this year you can consider bringing in a new tradition to the old holidays. Instead of staying home, you can plan a trip out of town for a few days. You can do something you’ve always wanted to do but never found the time. Don’t hesitate to incorporate your friends and family in your plans, too!

Changing your habits can be especially important if you associate the day or days with that person. While we often cling to the past and things that brought us comfort, it is perfectly acceptable to leave those things behind if they no longer do that or, more importantly, if they actively bring pain and hurt.

Making The Most Out Of Milestones After The Loss Of A Parent

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love." Washington Irving

Grief is never an easy process. It can hit us in the most unlikely ways and at the most unexpected moments. The holidays and milestones we most look forward to celebrating at normal times may look vastly different in the aftermath of losing a parent. Experiencing grief during a holiday or milestone is an expected part of your journey through your grief. Don’t force yourself to participate in any of these occasions until you feel you are ready. However, it is just as important not to hide away from your grief or suppress the emotions it brings. And when you are ready, you may find solace in commemorating the ones you have lost in unique, meaningful ways.

Further Reading:

Grief And Grieving: Healing After Loss Through The Grieving Process

How To Make A Memorial Service A Celebration Of Life

Writing Letters As A Form Of Grieving

July 19, 2020 by Frances Kay