The First Birthday After the Death of a Loved One

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Eleanor Haley

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I've always thought of birthdays as a mark that someone's grown a year older. For me, it's always seemed like birthdays are about age because we celebrate them on the exact day a person was born to recognize they've made it another year around the sun.

But this begs the question, if birthdays are about years lived, does this mean they should end after a person dies? Many people ask themselves this question as they approach the first birthday after the death of a loved one. And though my previous logic might imply I think otherwise, my answer to this question is no, their birthday is always their birthday.

Allow me to share a new rationale with you--I looked up the definition of "birthday" earlier today, and, interestingly, I didn't see much mention of the passage of time or accumulation of life. Instead, most simply define a birthday as "the day of a person's birth" or birth anniversary--and these are both things that continue to be true after a person dies. So, if your gut hadn't already told you that you can celebrate your loved one's birthday and that you should if you like, I hope you've let this logic persuade you. 

My loved one's birthday makes me sad

Another anxiety people struggle with as they approach the first birthday after a loved one's death, is that the day is likely to be painful. Many people will see the birthday as a sad reminder of how long the person has been gone or feel a sense of loss about the ages and milestones their loved one never reached. 

The sadness that your loved one won't have another birthday is a painful secondary loss, and, though their birthday should be easier to face in time, it will always be a little sad. You can't erase this pain because as long as you love the person who died, you will be sad they aren't here. However, you can tell your sadness to move over and make room for other thoughts, memories, and emotions at the birthday table. 

The ideas below will hopefully help you cope with the pain of the day and, when you're ready, incorporate moments of connection, purpose, warmth, and remembrance.

first birthday after death of a loved one

33 Suggestions for Honoring, Remembering, and Celebrating their Day

We've written about celebrating a deceased loved one's birthday in the past here. Today, we want to expand on the conversation by sharing ideas inspired by suggestions from our social media community. If you have suggestions you'd like to share, please add them in the comment section below.

1. Allow yourself to feel your emotions as a way of honoring them. Acknowledge the full range of emotions that remembering them brings out in you like sadness, pain, frustration, anger, yearning, appreciation, laughter, warmth, and love.

2. Plan to do something they enjoyed or that you enjoyed together. 

3. Light a candle and sing happy birthday to them.

4. Gather with your family and friends for cake, and sing happy birthday together.

5. Spend time in nature or somewhere where you can be alone with your thoughts.

6. Plant something each year in their memory (if weather permits) like a tree, flower, shrub, etc.

7. Spread wildflower seeds.

8. Make a monetary donation in their name to a cause they would have supported. Some people also consider donating blood, if possible.

9. Eat special foods that remind you of them.

10. If you can get a little time off, plan a trip somewhere you can relax, or where you can connect with friends and family you haven't seen in a while.

11. Write them a birthday card or letter. 

12. Create a tradition of going to a specific place on their birthday - dinner at the same spot, noon mass, the movies. For some people, it helps to have somewhere to go. 

13. If leaving the house feels daunting, take the day off of work and other responsibilities and plan a day at home. Tell yourself ahead of time that it's okay to be completely unproductive today if that's what you need.

14. If there is a gravesite or other remembrance spot, order a nice flower arrangement to place there.

15. Paint rocks and leave them in places where other people can find them. 

16. If you're grieving for your baby, buy a baby gift, take it to the hospital, and ask them to give it to the first baby born on the day. 

17. Verbalize to someone else that it is their birthday and share how old they would have been. 

18. Share a photo and post about their birthday on social media.

19. Go to dinner and tip your server an amount equal to how old they would have been.

20. Set aside specific time for yourself in the day to rest and reflect on your grief. Spend the time journaling, listening to music, looking at pictures, etc.

21. The first birthday after the death of a loved one can be hard for anyone grieving them, so reach out to friends and family who may also be struggling with the day.

22. Buy (or make) a namesake jewelry piece.

23. Buy a gift you think you would have bought them. Give the gift it to someone who would appreciate it, or to someone in need.

24. Create an altar or memorial marker

25. Volunteer in your loved one's memory

26. Plan to do random acts of kindness, and ask others to do so in their memory as well.

27. Wear their favorite color

28. Make a playlist of their favorite music.

29. Go to a restaurant they liked and order what they would have ordered.

30. Have a party - send invitations and everything. 

31. Create an amazon birthday list with items that could be useful to the surviving family, or to a local charity.

32. Send a card or note to someone else grieving the death. If you can, share a memory or a story that may be new to them. 

33. Put together an album or slideshow of the person who died. 

If you have ideas for celebrating the first birthday after the death of a loved one (or any birthday for that matter) share them in the comments below.

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22 Comments on "The First Birthday After the Death of a Loved One"

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  1. Lyn M  August 18, 2023 at 8:38 pm Reply

    My husband of 51 years passed away this last February. He was a cyclist before ALS stopped him. His birthday was this last May. I emailed all our family and suggested that they celebrate by going for a bike ride or walk and/or having ice cream which he loved. Also I encouraged them to share what they had done. It was great to see what various family members did to remember him. My daughter, my grandson and I went to one of his favorite restaurants. They ordered what he usually ate and I ate what I usually ate when I went with him and made sure to have some ice cream.
    It was a meaningful day for me!

  2. Cat  August 6, 2023 at 7:47 am Reply

    My mom passed away in December her birthday is coming up next week this is the 1st birthday with her gone it hurts so much I allow myself to take it day by day but this anxiety attacks and always crying when does it get better is this the new me I don’t know how to celebrate her day I’m tired of people asking am I ok no I’m not this pain is unbearable I didn’t feel this when I lost my father

  3. pradeep  August 1, 2023 at 1:36 am Reply

    coming 5th August would be the 59th Birthday of my beloved wife Valentina who left us on 16th March, finally lost her struggle with brain cancer since 2018, thank you Lord for our 32 years of blessed married life with two young daughters. Now we only trust she is eternal peace with the Lord and we shall meet again!

  4. Mon  July 8, 2023 at 12:09 am Reply

    Thank you for all the suggestions and for the comments. My mum passed in Feb 2023. Her 84th birthday is at the end of July. I have asked which family want to get together at mums grave and for lunch. I will decorate her grave in pink, her favourite colour. I have a card I will protect in plastic and will buy a waterproof gift I can leave. I have a couple of songs I will be singing at her grave like “Tears in heaven”. We will have a lunch together with a candle, angel and teddy for mum. The table will be decorated in pink and we will wear pink. I made a scrapbook of her life I will take.

  5. Jennifer  July 1, 2023 at 8:26 pm Reply

    It’s my son’s first heavenly bday June 6th. His 24th! He will have been gone almost 40 wks by then and the one thing I’m going to ask my friends and family to do is a Random act of kindness that day to honour the kindness he was full of and couldn’t continue

  6. Daniela  June 27, 2023 at 3:22 pm Reply

    Thank you for this list 💚 just signed up to donate blood in honor of my brothers 1st heavenly birthday tomorrow. Of course the universe lined it up that there’s a blood drive tomorrow 5 mins from where I’ll be. 🙏🏽

  7. Nina  October 17, 2022 at 9:41 pm Reply

    Today would be my dads 58th birthday. It’s his first birthday since he died unexpectedly in May 2022, nine days before my college graduation. I think my mom, my sister, and I are all struggling with it in our own ways. I still don’t know how this happened sometimes.

    Listening to the two voicemails I still have from him makes me feel closer to him. So I won’t forget the sound of his voice, which I’m scared of. I will try to do some of the things on the list to honor him, though it is hard when I have such low energy and can barely get food down. I’m sorry to all the other people having to face the birthdays of their deceased loved ones. I’ve never known such pain. I hope I learn what I’m meant to learn from this experience.

  8. MkL  July 14, 2022 at 8:16 pm Reply

    I just honored the first birthday after a dear friend departed this realm. We wore t-shirts with her picture and slogans she liked to use that will always remind us of her.

  9. Kim  June 27, 2022 at 7:21 am Reply

    It’s so damn strange. When Megan was born, I measured time by weeks, then months (including half months!), then years, according to her age.

    Now I measure time exactly the same way. Days, Weeks, Months, soon to be Years.

    Except it’s since I lost her.

    • Jennifer  July 1, 2023 at 8:23 pm Reply

      I totally understand 😭 I guess because that’s how we counted while pregnant right off the bat our brain kept it the same. It’s been almost 39 wks since my son passed and his 24th bday is next week, will be just under the same amount of weeks I carried him as he’s been gone!

  10. Karen Traill  June 5, 2022 at 8:37 am Reply

    I have just had my dad’s birthday, i took the day off work which i will also do this week for my mum’s, i planted up some pot’s to put on her grave,on dad’s birthday i spend some time on my own, lucky my family and friends know when i want to be by myself, i will visit mum on my own too, then it will be father’s days, 💔

  11. Melissa  May 11, 2022 at 11:16 pm Reply

    I was born the day before my dad’s birthday, so we always celebrated together. Our birthdays are coming up, and this will be the first one since he died. The idea of celebrating without him feels so unnatural.

  12. Melanie  May 5, 2022 at 10:56 am Reply

    Our daughter and only child would have been 34 on April 6th…It was surreal..There was family, a cake, singing,stories and yet a deafening silence. Now my first Mother’s Day w/o her will be equally devastating. Others tell me the hardest work is to come but, I’m sorry..the hardest work was losing her.

  13. Marilyn M Stenberg  May 2, 2022 at 2:03 pm Reply

    My best and dearest friend passed away after a 50+-year-friendship. I honor her by requesting the altar flowers at our church be in her memory on the Sunday closest to her birthday.

  14. Ty's mama  April 28, 2022 at 11:34 pm Reply

    Thank you, it is his 2nd birthday in heaven, and seems even harder this year. I will be in his memorial wildflower garden.

  15. Thorpuppy  April 28, 2022 at 11:07 pm Reply

    I love this! I lost my 71 year old momma onJune 29th 2021. Her birthday was November 30th. It was a sad day, but your suggestions are great! Now Mother’s Day is coming up, and I am dreading that. Any suggestions would be great! Unfortunately my birthday is on Mother’s Day every so many years.

    Your website has been so helpful! Especially reading everyone else’s comments on here too. I always have a longing to talk to her one last time. I can still hear her voice in my head. As her daughter I miss her so much! I am lucky to have a very supportive husband for sure! My parents got divorced when I was five. My dad was also supportive as well.

    I know I am not alone, and unfortunately every single one of us will experience the loss of our parents. I am lucky to have found you guys and the wonderful people who share their stories on here!

    God bless everyone on here who suffered the loss of a loved one… and hugs ro all of you!

    • Nancy Wolnowsky  May 1, 2022 at 8:49 pm Reply

      My birthday is the hardest now that my mom is gone. On my birthday, I celebrated my mom… not me. She carried me to until that special day. It’s her celebration for bringing me into the world. I always got her a special “birthday” present. I acknowledge her birthday, but I grieve on my birthday. On my last birthday, I spent some time alone in the woods, them wrote in my Mom journal that evening. My birthday will always be hard.

  16. cynthia Vadala-Ricci  April 28, 2022 at 9:37 pm Reply

    very good information , as I celebrate the upcoming birthday of my late husband
    of three months. I am going out to eat at his favorite restaurant and will be toasting
    with a glass of wine, as we had done many times.

  17. Kristin  April 28, 2022 at 8:39 pm Reply

    My mom’s birthday is coming up next week- May 4th. It is my second year without her. My heart hurts so much! I t feels like it is crushing me right now

  18. Elaine  April 28, 2022 at 4:54 pm Reply

    On the birthday of the loss of your beloved, wear something that reminds you of them. It could be a fragrance, clothing or jewelry.

  19. Gwen  April 28, 2022 at 4:47 pm Reply

    My 35-year old son died at the Mayo Clinic after only eight days on 12.16.19. He and his widow were never able to conceive, so I have no grandchildren from him, which makes me very sad because I would still be able to hug and love part of my son remaining. The first birthday is hard, but it’s been two birthdays for him. The second one was harder. What we do is go to the cemetery – we pray holding hands, we sing and play his favorite music – Luke Combs, and Catholic hymns that he loved. Then we either blow bubbles or release balloons and watch them as they go up in the air. Then we all go to the last restaurant he went to in November 2019. It’s bittersweet, but it’s comforting for us, too. +JMJ+

  20. Cynthia  April 28, 2022 at 4:43 pm Reply

    We had known each other since we were in the third grade and had been married 4 months shy of 61 years. He was my best friend, my partner, my confidante, my lover. We kept our vow of never going to bed angry. We talked all problems and differences through. I miss him terribly- it is almost 3 years. We raised 3 fantastic kids and have 3 grandchildren and our third great grandchild is due this fall. Because of Covid, grief counseling has been almost non existent. I do get comfort from your posts. Thanks.


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