Happy deathday? We need a word to mark the commemoration of loss

Anniversaries don’t feel right. The word, I mean it. So much like birthdays, festive markers on calendars, parties. But English doesn’t offer much else. Not that I could find. Lately, as May 24th approaches, I’ve been looking.

That day, early in the morning, when my father had died 10 years ago, an old fur seal sank in palliative care. I remember the phone breaking my sleep at the hotel. Then came the blur that followed, standing under the lights of Pyrmont, giving a crossword lesson at the Sydney Writers Festival. A capable zombie in action.

In this way, the coma that day became a faint scar in my memory. Just wait until May returns, and the date comes full circle, proving yet again that English has been stripped away. What do we say? Dictionary is empty. The actor who played Tony The Sopranos, James Gandolfini, died a month after I suddenly found out about myself, so how do we honor the vacuum he left with HBO? Anniversary? A timely tribute?

    Serious Celebrations: When it comes to honoring loved ones'

Serious Celebrations: When it comes to honoring loved ones’ “death anniversaries,” the English language has let us down. Credit: iStock

Chat rooms like Quora and Reddit do their best. False mixes like “annihearsary” and “creminiscence” offer cold comfort. Catholic liturgy refers to “a year in remembrance,” a requiem for a parishioner for the year or years after his death. In this case, “mind” borrows from the Scots idea of ​​remembrance, preserved in the adage, “out of sight, out of mind”. Although here, in the votive candle, every effort is made to reverse the proverb.

There is “yahrzeit” in Yiddish, which literally means year time, not to be confused with a game where players roll dice to score points. In fact, “Day of the Dead” is another tactic, popularized by JK Rowling at the Day of the Dead party for Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost. Inspired by this, a post-punk band called Deathday Party (later simply Deathday) may have made their ominous debut in 2008 at a Los Angeles club called The Smell.


Then there’s “barasee,” a Hindi term for the anniversary of a death. At least that concept has been distilled into a single word, reinforced by “shraadh,” a ritual in which the faith pays annual respect to the dead. The ritual echoes Japanese ancestor worship, or “babang luksa” in Tagalog, which literally means lowering mourning. A year after the death of her husband, widows can remarry, which is a kind of remembrance and a kind of liberation.

Globetrotter speaking English has nothing. When it comes to fixing another big date on many lifelines, our vocabulary is just as much needed. At some point, most of us dodge a bullet, whether it’s a medical crisis, a road trauma, or the Grim Reaper, only to have the scythe miss it. A year later, what will that day be called? survivor? Rebirth?

Again, dictionary searches are futile. When sharing dilemmas on social media, I’ve received a ton of advice, from “me-more-ial day” (in honor of the LR of the crossword Tuesday) to “mirthday”, from “swerveday” to “thankliving”, from “rechance ” to “TFIA Day” by “mirthday” Graham Kidd (where F is your imaginary curse). Often, the survivor’s nemesis becomes part of the neologism, such as “strokeversary” or the clumsier “transplantiversary.” Everyone has their own miracles, I think, with little help in dictionaries.

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