It surprises me every year at this time. We are finally settling into a school routine and a fall activity rhythm. I’ve hit my stride with my creative work and the groups I’m leading are kicking off. Then out of nowhere I start to get this slow ache deep in my soul.
Grief sneaks in.
And somehow my body and my soul know before my brain that this was the week. Three years ago, these were the final days when my husband was fighting for his life. My memory skids and careens and bumps over the memories. The call to hospice. The oxygen tank. The way my bedroom was turned into a hospital room. The desperate prayers whispered in the kitchen or the bathroom, in the darkest hours when none of us could sleep.
I prayed a prayer I never believed I could. I begged God to take him, to release him from his pain. I looked into his hazel eyes and told my beloved the girls and I would be ok.
And on September 9, 2014, my beloved husband soared to Heaven.
Such beautiful sweet redemption for him after an intense cancer battle. And unexpected relief for me. I did not have to watch him suffer anymore. I had confidence he was running the streets of gold with a new body in Heaven.
Three years later, my soul still knows. My body still remembers. This Saturday we will celebrate Ericlee’s 3-year Heaveniversary. The girls and I decided last year to name this sacred day his Heaveniversary. I was tired of the awkward phrases like the “day he died” or “death day.” I want this day to be an anniversary when we remember a husband, father, coach and friend, and his amazing legacy. Death was not the end of his story; Heaven is.
Are you longing to celebrate a loved one and their legacy? Do you have a Heaveniversary fast-approaching?
I polled some of my widow friends and asked them how they celebrate their husbands’ Heaveniversaries. The following is a list of creative ideas you might consider to honor your husband, your wife, your mother, your aunt, your friend or others on their Heaveniversary. For us, it has been about discovering meaningful ways to remember each year.
- Bring a picnic to the cemetery. It’s a tradition for many families from different cultures to visit the grave site of a loved one on their Heaveniversary. We put a twist on this last year by bringing a picnic. I brought pizza and sandwiches from my husband’s favorite spot. We spread a blanket over the grass. Grandma came to sit with us, and we shared stories about him and other family members who were buried at that cemetery.
- Fly a kite together and send prayers to Heaven. We used to let balloons go, but several have mentioned how this is bad for the ocean creatures and earth. Instead, think about flying a kite together with your kids. There’s something beautiful and sacred about letting go and watching a kite fly to the heavens.
- Take a day to go to the lake or another place your loved one would spend a lot of time. Another friend said she took her daughters to a nearby lake, which was her husband’s favorite place to be. They brought lunch and relaxed together. Sometimes getting away on a trip can be the best way to celebrate.
- Visit a favorite restaurant and share memories around the table. We might be tempted to avoid special places during the year, but a Heaveniversary is a perfect day to return to a favorite restaurant or a place you shared your first date. Bring friends or family and share memories around the table.
- Look through some of your loved one’s treasures together. We have several boxes in our garage with my husband’s favorite childhood treasures, some of his clothes and cards people sent with special stories about him. A Heaveniversary is an opportune time to get these out and to share them.
- Peruse pictures and create an album together. The majority of our pictures are digital now, which means less time to select the best photos and assemble albums. When you take time to peruse pictures and put together a special album, you participate in meaningful remembrance of your loved one.
- Gather some friends to watch videos together. One of my daughters’ treasures is their dad’s old iPhone. They found all kinds of silly videos he made of them when they were little or workouts he used to do. Last year, we saved those videos to our laptop and hooked that up to our TV to watch them together. We loved the opportunity to hear his voice and laugh again.
- Do something active in honor of your loved one. My husband was an athlete and coach. He loved to get outdoors for a hike or run. One way to celebrate his legacy is to do something active in his honor. You might do this with friends or family. You might even sign up for a race and run in your husband’s honor. The training can be a time for grieving and remembering.
- Journal your memories. Sometimes I worry that the best memories of my husband will be forgotten. Carve out some time on this Heaveniversary to write down a few memories of your loved one. They don’t need to be perfect or polished. Writing them down helps you remember and record these memories for family in the future.
- Host a Heaveniversary dinner. We started this tradition last year and other widow friends have done the same. We invite some of our treasured friends to our house for a special meal. I intentionally invited some of my husband’s friends who we don’t see as much anymore. After dinner, we gathered in our living room to share stories about my husband. What I thought might be a somber day turned into a true celebration.
One thing I’ve learned these last three years is that I need to be intentional about carving out time and inviting my family into practices of remembrance. I can’t wait for others to stand up and offer their thoughts spontaneously. I need to find courage to lead.
Even three years later, my mind is often triggered by memories of my late husband. He appears in my dreams or I find myself saying something the way he used to say it. These make me pause. The grief never goes away but the path somehow grows easier. A big part of this journey has been taking time to lean in together as a family and remember the man he was, and to continue carrying his values into the future.
This Saturday, we will host another Heaveniversary party to remember my Ericlee. We will laugh, we will cry and we will celebrate.
**Interested in reading more about why it’s important to give yourself permission to grieve? Check out this post.
***I would love to send you my FREE guide on Navigating Grief with Kids full or ideas and resources. Opt in here.
Featured photo via VisualHunt
Carol Longenecker Hiestand says
beautiful , , , this thing of our bodies remembering before our brains. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for sharing here.
Cherry Maharaj says
I stumbled your blog in search of ways to honor my dad, who passed away on Sept. 9th, 2021. I know there’s ample time to plan. As a mom of 4 time and I don’t see eye to eye [:)]Maybe its fate our paths cross for a reason only lord knows. I’m deeply sorry for your loss may your husband’s soul rest peacefully.
Melissa Martinez says
What meaningful ideas to take away from this! I might just give a new one a try next year. Thank you for sharing, Dorina.
Dorina Gilmore says
Thanks for sharing your balloon release idea. I forgot to get balloons this year but I love the concept and will try in the future…
They have balloons that are environmentally friendly.I saw some on Amazon,but may be at other stores. too.
Thank you for sharing this Dorena. My daughter and I get very weepy the week of my Dad’s Heaveniversary. I usually take off work on the actual date because I automatically wake up crying on that morning because the night before he died I was in bed and thought let me go up and tell him goodnight but I was so tired I said I’ll see him in the morning. When I woke up he had just transitioned into eternal life. I miss my Father so much. My mom and I have gone to the casino (he loved to gamble lol) on his Heaveniversary and out to eat at his favorite spot. This Saturday my mom and I will get together and do something special to honor his life and our love for him. Thank you so much for reminding me that my body knows before my brain…this is always a hard week since he too died from cancer. And he knew the day he was going…I told him they were bringing a hospital bed. He said why are they bringing a bed for one day? I didn’t get it until after he died. He spent 1 day in that bed and the next he was gone. His last words the night before were “See You On The Other Side”….Fairly well Daddy.
Kim Goës says
Thank you for sharing! I lost my husband Erick(50) to cancer Oct 23,2019. His birthday is coming up June 13. My daughter, Ericka and I want to do something special. You gave us some great ideas. Please pray for me. This is a very lonely journey.
I’m glad you found this article and some ideas to use. Please check out my Facebook group Widow Mama Collective if you need support on your journey!
My husband passed on May 10 of this year, 2020. He waited until Mother’s Day to take his last breath. He passed on with Pancreatic Cancer. It was a shock to all of us. He didn’t have early symptoms. When he did, it was too late. He was 65 young. We’re supposed to grow older and be together until the end of our love story. It wasn’t meant to be. Now, my soulmate, my best friend, and my understanding partner is in heaven. I celebrate his life everyday by creating an altar with his urn surrounded with beautiful flowers, i also placed his favorite, small memory items next to the urn. At night i turn a salt lamp on to guide him to heaven and back. Every morning I place a small glass of water to help his soul hydrated. Talking to him out loud helps me ease the pain in my heart. My daily ritual may sound crazy, but this is how I cope with my grief. Thank you for this article. My deepest sympathy for the loss of your husband.
Thanks for all the creative suggestions to celebrate our loved ones! I lost my brother who was my best friend a few months ago which was unexpected so I’m always searching for ways to process & overcome my grief as it’s been so hard to cope beings how close we were. God bless u all!
Rachel Ozuna says
Thanks for sharing. Nov 12 will be 23 years that my daughter has passed. On her 20th Heaveniversary we gathered with family & friends and released butterflies. It was beautiful.
Praying over you and your family! I love the idea of releasing butterflies. How beautiful!
Cathy Blowers says
I don’t think it was coincidence I stumbled upon your page this morning. Today I am celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary – alone. My husband passed away from glioblastoma a year and a half ago. I thought today when I woke up that I would be fine, but that sneaky grief is settling quickly into my spirit. Thank you so very much for this page.
Mike Castro says
I needed this…. My son murdered 3 years ago come March 16th….. I know I’m not the only one about when you say “Grief sneaks in”😔
Praying for you during this difficult season! Thank you for taking time to comment.
Mike Moore says
Thank you so much for your site and your help to all of us along the journey of grief. It is amazing how our body and soul knows the date of our beloved’s departure better than our remembrance, even before the date! But, that is how grief works. Sometimes it sneaks in and sometimes it hits like a hornet, without warning, stinging to our very soul. God bless you for your work and using your experience of loss to be a blessing and a help to others!
Thank you for your post. I lost
My husband, Greg, Aug. 6, 2020. He was a joy of my life. I k ow that now more than ever. Thanks for the ideas, we will be celebrating his memory on his Hevannversary . I will use a few of these ideas.
Dally Rivera says
Thank you for all this beautiful ideas. I lost my Brother in 2020, my dad on 2021 n one of my grandmas on 2022. And reading I’ll this comment brought tears to my eye. May they all this souls rest in paradise.