14 years ago today on September 14th, we lost a very special man – my dad. And honestly, special doesn’t even describe the man that meant so much to so many people. He was truly one in a million, which is no wonder heaven called him home early. Although his time on earth was a mere 46 years – it was as if he’d already lived ten more lifetimes than the rest of us. He was just that kind of old soul and I am so lucky to have had his love and influence in my life for as long as I did. I still miss him like crazy and that will never change. But what has changed is the way I choose to honor him on the anniversary of his passing. Some years are harder than others, especially the early years, but what matters is how you use this time to move forward. So I decided to list out 14 ways that have helped my mom and me honor my dad each year his anniversary rolls around. I hope these help you if you’re in the same situation, and I know we’ll be swapping stories, looking through old photos, and reliving our favorite memories all day because that’s what he would have wanted.
1) Write a letter to them
I admit, I haven’t done this one but my mom has in her grief counseling group. They had her do an exercise where you write a letter to your loved one who’s passed, and they all went around and read it aloud. Needless to say, it was extremely emotional and cathartic at the same time. She remembers telling them that “You can’t make up a love like we had,” and it’s so true. It was one heck of a love story that I hope to have her write about someday for me to share.
2) Have them write a letter back to you
She thought when they first told her to have him write a letter back to her, that it was going to be really difficult. But she said it actually was easy because it was like my dad was telling her what to write down. She even found the letters recently in her storage room and re-read them. This letter from my dad was actually her favorite one to read and she’s so glad she did it.
3) Cook their favorite foods
My dad was Sicilian/Italian and a natural in the kitchen. He never used recipes and always made everything from scratch. I have so many fond memories watching him work his magic in the kitchen. Whether it was his famous lasagna or cannelloni, or traditional British dishes he learned from growing up in my grandparents restaurant in England – they all tasted better than anything you or I could ever recreate. But I still love trying, especially his lasagna or homemade meatballs on special holidays for my family. Makes me feel like he’s there with me enjoying it with us.
4) Watch an old favorite movie of theirs
My dad loved old movies, especially black and white ones. He gave me my love for musicals and theatre – Singing in the Rain is still one of my favorite movies that I remember sitting and singing along with him on the couch. Anytime an old Elvis movie or one with Sofia Loren comes on, I feel compelled to watch it in his honor. It’s not the same without him, but I like to think – maybe he’s smiling down from heaven every time the hubs turns on a James Bond marathon 😉
5) Do something symbolic
In the days that followed my dad’s passing, my mom and I both couldn’t help but notice the amount of monarch butterflies we all the sudden were surrounded by. We couldn’t shake the feeling that it was no coincidence and that it truly was a symbol that my dad was near and watching over us. Almost always something like this happens when one passes away and I think how nice it would be to do something to honor them in a symbolic way.
6) Enjoy their hobbies
One of my dad’s favorite hobbies was horseback riding, and more specifically, competitive show-jumping. My mom and I loved watching him ride and compete, so we always thought how nice it would be to go horseback riding in his honor. He also loved playing sports so I’m always down for a game of b-ball 😊
7) Live out their bucket list
My mom says there were always things they said they were going to do together when they got older and retired. Well now she’s still committed to living her life and experiencing things she and my dad would have done together. Although she’d much rather have done it with him – she knows he’d be so proud of her for venturing out and living on.
8) Travel to a favorite place of theirs
Growing up we used to travel to Italy and Sicily to visit my dad’s family. Since he passed we’ve only been back once or twice, and it’s been a little bittersweet. I still would love to take my own family back to the places my dad took us and relive those memories as well as make new ones with our kids now.
9) Teach the younger generation about them
Ever since he was a little baby, my mom would look into my son’s eyes and see my dad. It’s really no coincidence he was born on his birthday, and named after him. When my mom and I tell him about his Grandpa Martino, it’s as if he truly knows and remembers him even though they’ve never met. Nothing makes my heart more happy.
10) Look back at old photos
There’s just something about printed photos that hold onto memories more than anything else. I still love looking through my favorite old photos of my dad and me from when I was a baby. It brings back the sweetest memories and makes me so grateful I will always have them to look back on.
11) Listen to their favorite music
My dad loved music of all kinds. My mom loves to tell the story about how all he came over with from England to The States, were suitcases full of albums. I used to love catching him with his head phones on sitting in our music room, singing to himself as if no one was listening. We still have all his albums and I bust them out every now and then to listen to his favorite old bands like Genesis, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, etc.
12) Plan a gathering with people who loved them
This might be my favorite way to honor a loved one because nothing keeps someone’s memory alive more than sharing memories with those who loved them too. My mom had the great idea to meet up with his old English buddies at a pub like the good ole days – drinking beers, shooting darts and watching soccer. Those were some good times.
13) Give yourself grace
Shortly after my dad passed, my mom was talking to a friend who had lost a son ten years prior and when she told him how long my dad had been gone for he said “It’s only been two years, you haven’t had a chance to heal yet.” She remembers thinking to herself “Well it’s been two years, I’m fine.” She didn’t understand what he meant when he said it to her though. That he was trying to tell her to give herself grace and time to heal, without any timetable or agenda. Too often we force ourselves to put on a happy face for others, when really that only does more harm than good. So my advice is to truly give yourself grace and know that it’s ok to still hurt and miss them. You’re still honoring them, maybe even more so, by allowing yourself time to grieve.
14) Take a day to yourself
A lot of times we just block stuff so much just to get through the day, through life, without them. But maybe we need to just give ourselves this day to feel – really feel. Every emotion, no matter how painful or how delightful. To give ourselves just this one day that it’s ok to feel whatever way we need to because that’s how we heal, and that’s how we honor them.
Photos courtesy of Marlo Carroll Photography