The First Birthday After the Death of a Loved One

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


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.

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

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

Click here to leave a Comment
  1. 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.

    1
  2. 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…..love and hugs ro all of you!

    1
  3. 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.

    2
  4. 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

    1
  5. 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.

    2
  6. 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+

    3
  7. 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.

    2

Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.