As we get older, birthdays tend to feel less special. They become something a lot of people actually dread. The older we get, the less we want to celebrate. It is especially hard to continue celebrating the birthday of a lost loved one.
I’ve been struggling with this a lot since my brother died two and a half years ago. My brother was four years older than me and we had our birthdays back to back – on July 28th and the 29th. We celebrated a lot of birthdays together and sometimes didn’t say “happy birthday” to each other because it just canceled out.
Since he’s been gone I completely dread my birthday. It’s a reminder that I’m getting older and will soon be older than he lived to be. Plus a huge part of what made my birthday special is gone for good. I don’t want to celebrate because it doesn’t and will never feel the same by celebrating without him.
The more time passes though, the more I realize it’s incredibly important to me to continue celebrating his birthday by doing things that make my family and I think of him.
There are many ways to continue celebrating the birthday of a lost loved one, but here are some of my favorite ideas.
1. Do something they loved (garden, watch sports, play games, go on a hike, drink milkshakes, etc.)
My brother, Kyle, was serious about Scrabble. He played by the rules while my other brother, Ryan, pissed him off with made-up words and by doing things like flipping w’s into m’s. Now we make it a habit to play Scrabble and think of all the things he would be shaking his head about. We upgraded from the board pictured below and now play on the deluxe Scrabble board which is engraved with his name. If your loved one had a favorite activity or something they loved, gift something to yourself in their honor that always makes you think of them.
2. Listen to their favorite music
While we play Scrabble, we always have some Tom Petty songs playing in the background because that was Kyle’s favorite music. If your loved one had a long list of favorite songs, make a playlist (I use Spotify.) Some songs may bring you back to great moments, others may make you cry. Either way, it’s great to combine doing something they loved with their favorite music and think about the memories you shared.
3. Eat Food that Reminds You of Them
When we were in Hawaii for vacation, my dad bought a chocolate mousse cake from Costco near the end of the trip. The cake was massive for 5 people to eat in one sitting. As we cleared out the refrigerator on the final day, we realized the cake was still there. My dad never wants to waste anything so he forced us to attempt to finish this cake. My brother finished it right before our flight and had stomach pain for the 12-hour trip home. He swore he would never eat chocolate mousse cake again.
Who was he kidding? He definitely ate chocolate mousse cake again. We also made sure to eat chocolate mousse cake on his birthday one year, right after we sang happy birthday and blew out candles. We couldn’t stop laughing over the “remember when…” stories this brought up.
4. Throw a party with cake and candles
Each year we get a birthday cake with candles for Kyle. We also will put my name on it as it’s usually a dual celebration for the cake. We light candles and sing happy birthday. This can be tough and may bring up a lot of emotions but it’s nice to celebrate in this traditional way. If you feel funny doing this, I get it. You can also just bake a tray of brownies (or pick up some premade cookies) and sit around with loved ones. Go around the room and share your memories with one another. You might be surprised at what you hear!
5. Create a memory jar
It can be hard to remember all the memories of your lost loved one on your own as time passes. Keep track of memories by creating a list of memories. Ask friends and family to write down their memories on slips of paper to put into a memory jar. You can pull from this jar whenever you’re thinking of them or special days like their birthday. Just be prepared because you might even learn something new.
Although I admit it isn’t easy, it is possible to continue celebrating the birthday of a lost loved one. Then again, if your loved one hated birthday celebrations, don’t force this! If celebrating doesn’t feel right, you can simply take time to yourself to reflect or do what you’re comfortable doing.
Please remember to allow yourself time to grieve and process your feelings. Do what feels right on your loved one’s birthday even if it’s doing nothing at all.