Celebrating the birthday of a dead loved one

The birthdays of our loved ones are a chance to gather friends and family and celebrate the birthday person reaching another year older. Because of this, when a person dies, birthdays can be especially difficult times for those they’ve left behind.

But just because the nature of the celebration has changed, doesn’t mean it should be any less of a celebration. Planning and attending the birthday party of a dead loved one can be a great way to commemorate and memorialize their life each year. It allows you to keep the memories you have with them fresh, and to gather the people that meant the most to them to share in the celebration of life while honoring the deceased.

Also known colloquially as a “heavenly birthday,” the birthday of a deceased loved one can take on a variety of forms. You can take the opportunity to visit their grave or memorial, write them a card or personal message, or make plans that reflect what they enjoyed doing on their special day

They say we all die two deaths: one when our physical bodies die, and another the last time someone says our name.  Whatever you decide to do, choosing to celebrate a heavenly birthday is a great way to shout your loved one’s name from the rooftops and keep their memory alive.

How to celebrate a heavenly birthday

There is no one right answer for how to celebrate a deceased loved one’s birthday, and you should do what feels right for those to whom that person was so special. As long as you focus on remembering the deceased person or family member and use the occasion to take some of your grief and transform it into loving memories, you're doing it right. But if you need any help coming up with ideas, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few suggestions for how to spend your loved one’s special day.

1. Celebrate how they would celebrate

What was your loved one’s favorite way to celebrate their birthday? Did they love a night on the town, surrounded by friends? Did they love to get away from it all with a camping trip to a secret spot? What was their go-to birthday meal? What kind of cake did they prefer?

Eterneva customer, Beth, shares that her son, Zachary, loved Starbucks and making people smile. Now, every year on his birthday, Zachary’s family makes it a point to celebrate in a way that he would have loved, including anonymously picking up the tab for people at Starbucks. “It even makes the employees happy,” she says. “The joy is just infectious.” 

Remembering and recreating how your loved one would celebrate their special day is a great way to pay tribute to them. It will also spark memories of past birthdays you spent together and allow you to reflect and reminisce about the good times you shared. Birthday traditions can be a powerful way to connect with those who have passed on. Gathering friends and family to uphold those traditions can bring you closer, and cement shared memories between the people who knew the deceased best. If there was something you did every year, keep doing it! The familiarity will feel like your loved one is there in spirit, partying along with everyone else. 

Remember, a birthday is not a funeral. Celebrating instead of mourning can be an important tool to overcome the grief surrounding death and pay tribute to a beloved mom, dad, sister, brother, or friend and wish them a happy birthday.

2. Give gifts to their loved ones

Giving gifts to the surviving family and friends of your loved one is a great way to connect with them. Not only are you able to offer condolences and honor the people closest to them on the anniversary of their birth, but it can also feel like you are giving a birthday gift to the person themselves. You can also donate to a cause that was important to them or spend time volunteering for an organization or project they were passionate about.

3. Share memories and stories

Gathering friends and family to break out the photo album and share stories and memories about someone who has passed is a wonderful way to keep their name alive. You can also post an album of photos on social media where friends and family members can remember fun times and share birthday wishes, quotes, sympathy, and memories. Telling stories can help remind everyone about the true nature and humanity of the deceased, providing texture, dimension, and complexity to our memories until it feels like the person is right there beside us.

4. Visit them

If your loved one is buried or a memorial site has been created for them, visiting the gravesite and celebrating there can be a special way to be close to them. You can bring traditional birthday decorations, flowers, gifts, and a cake to make the occasion festive and celebratory. You can even light candles and sing happy birthday. Or you can simply bring a few items that were meaningful to them or take the time to talk, write a letter, or quietly express your thoughts while your loved one is nearby.

No matter how you choose to spend your loved one’s heavenly birthday, it can be a time to honor and remember them, let them know you're missing them on their special day, and celebrate with those who knew them best.