Another Year Without You: 10 ways to celebrate the birthday of someone who has died

I really love being the one that people come to for advice on how to honour someone they love, when they have died. While it can be difficult to relive our moments struggling with the same questions, it’s comforting to know that I might be able to help another family think of a special way to honour the birthday of someone they miss. 

This year, on September 21st, it will be our boys’ 7th birthday.  Four years since we all celebrated together. As I wrap my head around another year without Zack, I’m overwhelmed with memories of what it was like leading up to the arrival of our twins.  The joy I felt being pregnant, the excitement as were about to meet them and then the way the world changed just after Zack arrived. This year, Jayden will be opening presents, sharing cake with his friends and enjoying family time but how do we mark the day for Zackie?  How to we hide our sadness and grief from our happy birthday boy?  The question haunts me every September, as I find the perfectly appropriate way to acknowledge the day for Zack while not taking away from Jayden’s celebration.  Certainly a unique and almost impossible feat but we’ve managed to do it for 3 years.

Turning 3. Their last birthday together.

Just last week a new Twitter friend (connected through the loss of our children) was approaching the first time she would celebrate her daughter’s birthday since her death.  What could she do?  How could she acknowledge the day?  What were some ideas to do something in her daughter’s memory?  I shared some of the ways we have celebrated Zack’s birthday over the 3 years since he’s been gone.  

Here are 10 ways to acknowledge, remember and celebrate the birthday (or death anniversary) of someone who has died;

1.  Send Balloon Messages:  Nothing says a birthday like balloons.  Especially when there are kids involved, balloons are the symbol of a birthday.  We love to take a Sharpie marker and write personal messages to Zack and then sing “Happy Birthday” as we send the messages (and balloons) to Heaven. We often leave an Elmo balloon at the grave on that day.

2.  Do what they loved:  Did you loved one have a favourite movie?  Watch it.  My Twitter friend watched “Rio” for her sweet daughter.  Did they love to eat at a special family restaurant?  Eat there.  Did they love a particular game or activity?  Do it.  We love to blow bubbles for Zack, as it was one of his favourite things.  It reminds us of the memories of family time spent blowing bubbles for him and watching his infectious smile and laugh as we tried to pop them.

3.  Visit their grave:  It seems obvious, but some people find the grave site a sad place to visit.  In our family, we have cried and laughed there.  We’ve had cake on the grass for our first birthday without him and we’ve let off balloons singing “Happy Birthday” beside his gravestone.  Our sweet friend, visited Zackie this week and made us realize that he is missed and remembered by so many others.  If you have a friend or family member who is missing someone they love, you might want to make that same visit so they know that person has not been forgotten.  It will mean more than you could ever imagine.

4.  Be with Family:  The most important thing after Zack died, was to just be with family on those tough days.  Take the day off of work, plan a special day out of the house or just host a small and causal day together with family or friends (make it Pot Luck, as you don’t need the stress of hosting a dinner). Sometimes just being together is the best way to honour someone who is missed.

5.  Make something special:  Photobooks, artwork and even online videos are all amazing ways to share memories and celebrate the life of someone you lost.  I love to make photobooks for the boys and even videos or slideshows about our memories with Zack. It gives our family a moment to reflect on those days, cry if we need to, laugh about silly times and even share stories together. Write a blog post if you are a blogger, write a letter and tuck it away somewhere special or write a poem about your thoughts.  Sometimes we make treats, Elmo candy pops, the pudding he loved and I have even made Elmo cupcakes with the boys.

6.  Buy Something Special:  I love this new wall art that we bought at HomeSense.  Could it be more perfect?  There are really beautiful frames, artwork, printed pillows and even decorative pieces that might remind you of your loved one.  Was it their favourite quote, colour or a photo from a place they always talked about?  Buy yourself a birthday gift to celebrate a birthday of someone in heaven.

7.  Go away:  Our first birthday without Zack was painful and overwhelming.  We talked it over as a family and decided that we just couldn’t throw a party that year.  We decided to take a trip to Great Wolf Lodge with my parents, my sister and brother-in-laws families!  It was just what we needed to be kind to ourselves, reflect on the day, have some fun and take our minds off of the immense sadness.

8.  Donate to a Cause that Matters:  Did you loved one die of cancer, MS, ALS, a Stroke or other disease?  Even a small donation in the name of someone you lost is an amazing way to celebrate their life and honour their birthday.  We are about to walk 20km for Zack’s Dream Team in support of SickKids and I love that it happens the week after Zack and Jayden’s birthday!  Our donation and our commitment to walk together is just one simple way to teach our boys about giving back, but also spend time with families who have been in our shoes.  We love the chance to donate money to SickKids on Jayden and Zack’s birthday, but most we love to make a difference in the lives of so many other kids.

9.  Light a Candle or Leave a Chair at the Table:  One small act of remembrance is  perfect if the other ideas are just too painful.  Leave an extra chair at the table for the day, keep a candle burning or leave out something special to them or move a treasured photo to the main area in the house.  An unspoken guesture is often all that you have in you for the first year and that’s okay.

10. Do nothing: It’s okay to just do nothing.  It’s okay to let the day slide by with no fanfare, special ceremony or acknowledgement.  Give yourself permission to stay private and alone with your thoughts and not worry about making any extra effort if it’s just too hard.  

Above all….be kind to yourself. 

Do what your heart will allow and nothing more. 

Don’t be concerned for what others may think, but what will help you mourn, remember and treasure the memories.

29 Comments on Another Year Without You: 10 ways to celebrate the birthday of someone who has died

  1. Brandy
    September 22, 2014 at 9:13 pm (3 years ago)

    Wonderful tips H! I especially love the artwork for your home. It is so very true.

    Happy birthday to your little men! You have a beautiful family.

    • Melissa
      January 17, 2016 at 11:08 am (1 year ago)

      Thanks for the wonderful tips on how to celibrate someone’s Birthday after they had passed away. It will be a year on June 25th, 2015 since my Dad had passed away, and 20 days earlier June 5th, 2015 my grandfather passed away. So it been a pretty tough year for my family and I. We missed them both dearly, and don’t want them to ever be forgotten during any celibration. So thank you so much again.

    • Heather Hamilton
      September 20, 2016 at 3:53 pm (9 months ago)

      thank you

  2. memorial matters
    March 10, 2015 at 6:27 am (2 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing great ideas to celebrate our loved one's birthday. We can also create Online Memorial for them to share memories.

  3. Donzell Lampkins
    August 19, 2016 at 2:47 pm (10 months ago)

    I am so sorry for your loss but I am so grateful for this article. I believe these are some very effective tips! Thank you so much. Hope all is well with you and your family.

    All the best,

    • Heather Hamilton
      September 20, 2016 at 3:52 pm (9 months ago)

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

  4. Rob Polster
    August 29, 2016 at 7:58 pm (10 months ago)

    Thank you for the ideas! My Dad died in 1974 and we are coming up on his 100th birthday. I have been trying to come up with an appropriate way to mark the day. I like the idea of moving a special photo to a prominent location and lighting a memorial candle.

    • Heather Hamilton
      September 20, 2016 at 3:52 pm (9 months ago)

      Thank you for reading, I hope you honoured the day in a special way.

  5. Nicole
    September 3, 2016 at 2:16 pm (10 months ago)

    Just coming across this post as we come to another birthday without her. <3

    • Heather Hamilton
      September 20, 2016 at 3:52 pm (9 months ago)

      So sorry Nicole, hope these ideas brought you some peace on that day.

  6. Imani Collins
    September 21, 2016 at 11:48 pm (9 months ago)

    Thinking of you today and sending you Love and Light. I came here to your sight today looking for ideas to celebrate my Moms birthday tomorrow. I’m reading and I couldn’t believe that today is actually Zacks birthday! Thank you for sharing such wonderful ideas!!! Again wishing you and your family peace in this day.



  7. Star's Sister-Kay Peterson
    September 25, 2016 at 9:24 pm (9 months ago)

    Thank you for being strong enough to share. It will be nearly 1 year since losing my sister 2 weeks before Christmas 2015. Her birthday is 10-28. My birthday is 11-5. Since they are so close, we always celebrated mutually. This will be one year I can’t. The closer I get, anxiety is setting in. But you have definitely made it easier. I know my loss is nothing like losing a child, but we lost our parents when we were 11 and 12. She was all I had before we had our own families. She was a rock, my best friend, and I just appreciate that you have extended to me, to us, ways to grieve but with less sorrow than I would have had. Prayers to you and your family.

    • Heather Hamilton
      January 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm (5 months ago)

      So sorry for your loss. I hope that you are finding some peace and signs that your sister is still with you.

  8. Kim
    October 21, 2016 at 11:53 pm (8 months ago)

    Hi, I am so sorry for your loss. Truly, I am. I happened across this post looking for a way to honor my lifelong friend who passed a month ago. Her bday is coming up. I wanted to do the balloon messages, but her daughter is concerned for the environment. I am thinking of another way to do messages, that wouldn’t hurt anything. Maybe random encouragement in the mail..? She was an extremely thoughtful and caring person.

  9. Laura
    January 21, 2017 at 3:40 pm (5 months ago)

    Hi, thank you so much for this. My friend died 10 months and 2 days ago of a heroin overdose, and today would’ve been her 19th birthday and me and her little sister, who’s my age, couldn’t come up with anything to do. I’ve lost so many people this past year I honestly have a hard time keeping track of them all. I think there were 7 deaths this past year. 2016 was a really horrible year.

    • Heather Hamilton
      January 31, 2017 at 3:26 pm (5 months ago)

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry. I hope that this year brings you some new hope!

  10. AnnMarie Ashton
    February 2, 2017 at 9:00 am (5 months ago)

    It is important to mark yr loved ones grave during the beaverment process

  11. Amanda
    February 14, 2017 at 2:33 am (4 months ago)

    Thanks for sharing! I lost my little sister (Andrea) July 7, 2016 to an overdose. Her birthday is coming up this weekend on Saturday, February 18, 1984. Its extremely hard to deal with, and me being older than her something I never thought I would ever have to deal with. It’s her first birthday in heaven and I was looking for ways to celebrate/cope. You really helped me. I’m so sorry for your loss. (((HUGS)))❤

    • Heather Hamilton
      March 25, 2017 at 8:28 pm (3 months ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss and so thankful you came across the ways that I have honoured Zack’s day. I hope the 18th had some new ways to honour Andrea and be kind to yourself.

  12. Leoba
    March 11, 2017 at 8:44 am (3 months ago)

    Thanks very much for the tips.My 24 year old son passed on last year,he was pushed from 9 th floor building.
    His birthday is 12 March,so I was wondering what to do.
    I need to connect with other grieving moms please.Thank you.

    • Heather Hamilton
      March 25, 2017 at 8:26 pm (3 months ago)

      I’m so so sorry for your loss. Please be gentle to yourself and find ways to both honour him and comfort yourself after such a tragic loss. Happy to help in any way.

  13. Cassie Hendricks
    March 15, 2017 at 6:12 pm (3 months ago)

    Thank you so much for number 10 – do nothing. I lost my son two years ago, and it’s still just too painful, but I feel guilty for doing nothing. It’s nice to hear someone say that it’s okay for now.

    • Heather Hamilton
      March 25, 2017 at 8:26 pm (3 months ago)

      Doing nothing and saying no is a gift you can give yourself. It’s difficult but you will thank yourself for the time you need. When you are ready, you may choose to do more again…take your time.

  14. Usha
    March 22, 2017 at 9:44 am (3 months ago)

    Good day
    I lost my bru in 2005 due a train run over him not sure if it was murder or suicide but still hard to get over.Then 2016 APril 6 I lost my soul mate and loving hubby who I miss dearly .

    • Heather Hamilton
      March 25, 2017 at 8:27 pm (3 months ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

  15. Elizabeth
    April 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm (3 months ago)

    Thank you for sharing this. My brother/friend/housemate passed unexpectedly from cancer last year and our family is at a loss. The household will be marking his special day with cupcakes and the birthday song. We love your idea of doing something he enjoyed, too.

  16. Tammy Priest
    April 13, 2017 at 12:08 am (2 months ago)

    So sorry for your loss! Thank you for sharing so that others can find comfort in their loss as well. I have a couple ideas. 1. Donate books in your childs name to the local library. 2. Plant a tree in your childs name at the local park or wildlife preserve 3. Start a scholarship in your childs name. 4. Donate to homeless shelters or womens shelters. A lot of people don’t think about children being homeless. I hope some of these help someone else they have helped us.

  17. chariana
    May 17, 2017 at 10:36 am (1 month ago)

    My name is chariana Simon And 5.19.2017 would’ve been my sons 1st birthday. He passed away on the same night my 2nd mom died 5 years ago. They come to me in my dream….. i smell her perfume….. I can feel him body on/in my body still .. … I’ve never felt this form of confusion. I’m devastated never having an opportunity to hold him to hear him to see him see me.. my 2nd mom came to me in my dreams before I came to after having an emergency c section telling me I got em he’s ok stop crying. And today I stopped. For the 1st time I had the HONOR of feeling the presence of my son whole in bed with his sister. I feel blessed to be chosen to have had birthed an Angel and double blessed to still know undeniably that I was and Am his mother.

  18. Janice
    June 20, 2017 at 2:03 pm (3 days ago)

    I found your page while searching for something special to do in memory of our daughter’s upcoming birthday. She passed away a week after her 14th birthday last August. Thank you for posting these ideas…I think her sisters will like them. I am also very sorry for your loss, God bless your family.


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