My middle daughter slathered melted butter on layer after layer of paper-thin phyllo dough for the baklava. Her arms moved methodically back and forth. Every six layers, she sprinkled cinnamon, sugar, and walnuts over the pastry like stardust. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter chopped bell peppers at the island next to her sister. I added the peppers to skewers with big chunks of marinated beef and onions for the kebabs. My youngest daughter laid out the homemade hummus, pita crackers, lahmajoon pizzas, and other appetizers on charcuterie boards. The kitchen was filled with a cornucopia of smells, flavors, and colors colliding as we prepped for the Heaveniversary party together.
This year marked seven years since my husband Ericlee graduated to heaven. Some might call September 9 his death day, but we decided to make it a day to remember the gift of heaven and celebrate his legacy. We’ve made it our tradition to host a dinner party where we tell stories and gather around good food. Every year I invite a different mix of family and friends. In some cases, this is the only time of year we see some of my late husband’s friends because our lives have moved in different directions.
This year — more than other years — my daughters took ownership of planning the party. We decided together to serve up Armenian food because my husband’s grandma was originally from Armenia. We talked through the guest list because they wanted to hear a diversity of stories from their dad’s childhood, school days, and adult life. My oldest put together a slideshow of pictures, and my youngest wrote and rehearsed a song for weeks to share at the gathering. It turned into a whole family affair.
Then, all at once, the doorbell rang, and family and friends started to pour in through the door. I realized I was actually looking forward to our time together instead of dreading a day that might otherwise be filled with sadness.
After our bellies were full, we gathered in our living room for a time of storytelling. One by one, friends and family began to unfold memories of my late husband Ericlee and his legacy of faith, courage, wellness, compassion, and generosity.
His best friend told a story about the time they shared a full Thanksgiving meal in my husband’s dorm, and then he insisted on sharing the leftovers with the homeless in their city. Another high school friend shared about how my husband always asked the hard questions and checked in about her relationship with God. A friend talked about how he was an encouraging coach and helped her get to the finish line of a half marathon.
My daughters were two, five, and eight when their daddy went to heaven. These stories — some of them repeated year after year — serve as their memory. The stories draw us close to Ericlee and help keep his legacy alive.
Remembrance is an important theme throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, the Israelites remember God’s faithfulness at many key crossroads. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, there is a call to remember the words and deeds of God. Deuteronomy 16:1-8 describes the Festival of Passover. The exodus and deliverance of Israel by God from Egypt is central to this remembering.
Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and other Jews throughout the New Testament. He also introduced what we now call communion as a remembrance of His life, death, and resurrection.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)
The Passover meal and communion were a time of gathering together around the table, sharing a meal, and taking time to remember God’s steadfast love, mercy, and sacrifice.
My friend Marcy specializes in trauma therapy and explains that telling our stories can bring physiological healing. As we share and remember, unprocessed trauma is dislodged from our brains. God designed our bodies to heal through the act of sharing stories.
Toward the end of our sharing time at the Heaveniversary party, my brother retold a story of Ericlee’s final days. He described how Ericlee’s face would light up in a smile whenever he was coherent. Cancer and pain ravaged his body, but it could not steal his joy. Many of us wiped away tears at the reminder that joy and pain often are intricately woven together. We do not want to forget God’s faithfulness to us through the grief.
The psalmist reminds us, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story — those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Psalm 107:2).
These words are an invitation to tell our stories. The Israelites continued to tell the story of how God restored them from captivity. Jesus told stories that would shape our understanding of His Father’s kingdom. And we are called to tell our stories today. Our stories can be like arrows pointing our children and those around us to God’s glory.
Friend, have you lost a loved one this year? Are you navigating grief? Make some space to remember. You could host a Heaveniversary party like ours or carve out some time at an upcoming gathering to tell stories about your loved ones. As we retell the stories and remember God’s goodness together, healing enters in.
Just what I needed as the first holidays without my mom draw near. Thank you for this beautiful reminder!
Krista C. says
Regina, I lost my mother earlier this year, too. I felt encouraged as well as her birthday is this month along with the first holidays without her. Thinking of you.
Regina, I’m so sorry for your loss. I pray stories of your mama will bubble to the surface and he’ll you remember her.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea. I recently lost my father(September 3rd), some days are fine and some days are unbearable. I feel like I burden people when I continue to speak of him, your devotional has given me the courage to continue to speak of my father to all who will listen.
Krista C. says
Thinking of you, Angela. I’m glad you found encouragement & I will be praying for you.
Yes! We need to keep telling the stories to inspire others and for our own healing!
I always love to hear this story–to hear how God has carried you through it all and met you every step of the way. I can’t wait to meet Ericlee in heaven one day. Big hugs to you my friend. 🙂
Ahhh, that means so much to hear. Thank you for entering in with me, Brooke! Hugs from across the ocean!
Krista C. says
This was so encouraging! I lost my mother earlier this year & sharing her stories & remembering her has been such an unexpected blessing in my grief journey.
Thank you so much for sharing your story.
I’m so glad this resonated and encouraged you. My heart is with you on this grief journey, friend.
My sister passed from this life to her eternal home in Heaven just 2 weeks ago. I’m still adjusting to not having our almost daily long-distance phone calls.
I love that word “Heaveniversary”! I think I’ll be using that in the future to help commemorate those milestone dates.
I’m so sorry for this recent loss. I’m praying for God to walk with you through each day. Feel free to steal the Heaveniversary idea!
This past Wednesday, my daughter and her boyfriend took me out to lunch to celebrate what would have be my husband’s 90th birthday. Chuck left us in 2018. Gathering and remembering was so helpful for us. I moved to Colorado in 2019 and some of my new neighbors marvel that I seem to be doing so well in such a short time. I attribute it to my faith and the fact that we talk about Chuck freely and are able to take comfort in our memories. After his death, it made me take notice of people that have no connection to God, or a place of worship and I wonder how they cope with loss. I am blessed.
I hear you. My faith has carried me in ways I can’t even describe.
Faith Waltke says
This is such a novel way of remembering. Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for reading.
Sharon A says
This really helped me! My husband’s 10th heaveniversary will be February 1 and I still tell so many stories about him with others many of whom never even met him! I love this idea. Thanks for sharing.
I’m sorry for your loss. I pray God meets you in the stories and remembering.
Thank you for these wonderful words.
I appreciate you taking time to encourage me!
Henry Lee says
I have found my son alive again after he told me his hardship and difficulties at his high school years when he first entered the school in Florida as a foreigner.
It was first time ever heard those stories for me.
Not only retelling the legacy of the late one graduated to Heaven but I learn the lesson to give a time and more time to listen the story from my son mentally dead, how he suffered and felt at the time of trouble..Appreciated your story so dearly…
Yes, there is healing in sharing our stories! There’s actually brain science that shows this to be true. Grateful for a God who designed us in this way!
Ruth Mills says
Perfectly timed post! Had word yesterday of 2 deaths of relatives of friends. Heavenanniversary is a wonderful idea! Wheels r starting to spin with ideas for my mom & Mom-in-law’s parties next summer. Thank you for planting the seeds! Bless you!
Ruth, I’m deeply sorry for these losses. I’m glad this sparks some ideas for you to honor your loved ones.
Brenda Koinis says
Wonderful post! Thank you.
Thanks for reading!
A beautiful way to celebrate a loved one.
We live his legacy through story!
Joy Mangan says
What a perfect article. Our Bible study had involved each member sharing their faith walk and we did so through many tears, prayers and healing. Sharing your personal story can I have a profound impact on someone else. Thank you for this message as I will be sharing it with my sisters in Christ.
Joy, it’s so true! Sharing our stories can be healing for us and others! Thank you for sharing!
Barbara K Rothman says
I always look forward to your devotionals! I also live in Central Coast of CA & love it here. My brother-in-law passed away 2 years ago this month but wasn’t a believer. He left a wife & they didn’t have any kids. I’ve tried to minister to my sister-in-law but it’s been pretty difficult. I think she’s more open now & we’re trying to show her the love of God.
My heart aches for what you had to go thru as a young mother but also thankful that God brought another wonderful man into your life to be your husband as well as a father to your girls.
Lord bless you!
Barbara, it’s a blessing and encouragement to hear from you. Praying for wisdom as you minister to your sister-in-law. May the God of comfort come near.
JENNIFER E HASSEL says
Hi Dorina, I had never heard of a Heaveniversary celebration but think it is a beautiful way to change the focus of remembering the day my own husband passed. I will definitely adopt your suggestion and, if it’s okay with you, pass it on. I have a website where I write about grief and loss and am always looking for ideas to share with others. Thank you for your post. Jennifer
Hi Jennifer, I’m sorry got your loss too. I’d love to connect with you about your site!
Angela Seneviratne says
Ive lost many friends this year. And also Ive been helping another friend cope with her deep loss too. This Heaveniversary is
really a great idea to celebrate the lives of those we have lost. hoping to share this with a few others too who have coped differently with their loss.
Angela, I’m so sorry for the loss you have endured this year. I’m glad you the Heaveniversary party resonates with you!
Melinda Miller says
Thank You for this devotion. We can relate to a heavenaversary.. I like that. Our 17yr old son passed on our property on April 17,2015, due to a garden tractor accident. Now our oldest son has not talked to us for almost a yr and a half, and we have a granddaughter who will be 1 in Dec and we have not seen her or met her.
I like how you wrote and retelling our stories helps us with the trauma that’s in our brain. My husband and I have told our story many times and in fact our Associate Pastor even did a video of our story so our church family could hear it. As our church has grown. It’s hard being a grieving parent.
Melinda, I’m deeply sorry for the loss you have endured! I can’t imagine losing a child. I’m glad you have found some healing and hope through sharing your story with others. I know God can use even our hard stories for His glory!
Beth Williams says
What a great idea to have a Heaveniversary. A time to remember the loved one. Our children need to hear stories of their loved one lost. God asks us to make memorials to remind us of loved ones gone on or things He has done for us. After crossing the Jordan God had the Israelites take 12 stone & make a memorial. That way all the children would know for generations. Retelling stories helps us know the person better & never ever forget them.
Yes! There are so many examples in the Bible where the people and God took time to remember. I love the remembrance stones story too. Thanks for sharing!
jenny Barkley says
A friend sent me this and it is a great idea. We recently lost our youngest daughter after a long illness, and it would be a great way for the family to remember her together, and to pass on her memory to their children. Thanks, Jenny
Hi Jenny, I am deeply sorry for your loss. I pray for comfort for you on the grief journey. I’m glad you were able to read this. I have more about my grief journey on my blog at http://www.DorinaGilmore.com.