As a parent the idea of celebrating the birthday of a child no longer here is unimaginable. Until you’re in it. Until the depths of death have surrounded you. Until everything within you wants to ensure your child never forgotten.
Until all you want to do is shout out loud “he was here, he was alive and he was amazing and he was ours and we loved him so. and we miss him every single day.”
That’s why we celebrate. To us, Aaden will never be forgotten, so the birthdays and anniversaries will never go unnoticed.
For us, this has been a long process of learning how to grieve as a family and communicate difficult things when it hurts so badly. If you are new to this journey of loss, I want to encourage you with a few helpful ideas on dealing with birthdays and anniversaries.
- Remember, This Is Your Journey. After Aaden died, I found myself so concerned with what others thought of me, how they would respond to my grieving, my decisions regarding his memorial or my decision to not go home, even my decisions on how to celebrate his birthday. I was so afraid that those closest to me would think I was strange or weird or a little crazy. Almost 5 years removed from Aaden’s death I have finally learned that it really does not matter what people think or say. They might actually think you are strange or weird or crazy. And it doesn’t matter. God meets us in different ways in our grief. Follow his leading and prompting and trust Him in His healing your heart.
- Pray. In the weeks leading up to the birthdays and anniversaries, spend time praying for your heart, your spouse’s heart and your children’s heart. Pray that God would be gracious in supplying joy and peace in abundance on those days. Pray that He would remove the anxiety and fear and overwhelming pain and just create beauty from ashes. Ask your friends and family to pray right along with you. Let them help bear that burden of loss. They very well may want to ask how you are doing as those days approach but are just too afraid to do so.
- Communicate & Make A Plan. It is crucial to have a plan for those days. Even if the plan is to do absolutely nothing. You must have a plan. And plans can only work if they are communicated to those involved. In my case my husband. If I’m being honest, that talk is the worst part of Aaden’s birthday every year. “How do we want to celebrate Aaden’s birthday this year?” That talk comes with many tears as I mourn my son and being able to be his mother. But no matter how difficult that conversation is, we have seen it work wonders as both my husband and I have the same expectations for how the day will go leaving no room for disappointment or frustration… neither of which need to be present on such an emotionally heightened day already.
- Start A Family Tradition. One of the hardest things for me was that I was setting out on uncharted territory. I suddenly had this ‘new normal’ of being a parent whose child had died and I had no idea what that looked like practically, especially when it came to his birthday. So, we started our own family traditions. We buy a book for him every year that is appropriate for the age he would have been turning. Some of our family and friends do the same, give us books for Aaden’s birthday, and I label them with sticker and they stay in a special trunk all year. We pull them out from time to time but my boys (and Adee too one day) know that they are Aaden’s books. We let balloons go. One for Aaden, and one for Andrew, Asher and Adelee. (You can read more about why we have the balloon tradition here.) We make a birthday cake. We sing happy birthday. We pray and thank God for the gift that Aaden was and is to our family. We have now started incorporating more age appropriate ideas into the celebration each year, asking what would Aaden have wanted as a 5 year old? So this year we added in a trip to Dunkin Donuts, a game of Candyland, a trip to the beach and pizza for dinner. I think that sounds like something any 5 year old would have loved on their birthday. (See some of our birthday fun below.)
- View It As An Opportunity. In our family those traditions are not just for us. They are even more so for Andrew, Asher and Adelee to be pointed to Jesus. Most parents will skirt around the truth of death. I don’t blame them, I would too. But when Aaden died, we had a 16 month old son who was wondering where his baby brother had gone. Talking about Aaden and death and heaven and Jesus and salvation became a very normal part of our life and still is today. On his birthday especially we have the wonderful opportunity to let our children know all about hope. About how God rescues and generously gives eternal life through Jesus. They get to see beauty from ashes lived out. I cannot think of a more profound opportunity to share the Gospel with our children than through the celebration of life in the midst of death.
I pray these words are helpful and minister to the heart of someone who is hurting and confused and filled with doubt today. May the God of all peace and comfort fill you with Life today.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.Psalm 34.18
P.S. Thank you to all those who were praying for our family on Aaden’s 5th birthday. Our day was absolutely wonderful as God graciously provided so much peace and joy. We laughed and played and celebrated and we both kept saying ‘this is just the best day ever.’ So, thank you for all of your prayers. We love you.
. . .