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.
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.