Birthdays as Anniversaries of Grief

Birthday Grief

Photo credit: Neal. via BY

I’ve been binge watching the Gilmore Girls and just this week watched a Season 5 episode where Luke has a “dark day” on the anniversary of his father’s death.

This made me think also of Facebook friends marking death anniversaries. One woman bakes cookies for breakfast on her dead child’s birthday and encourages her friends to do the same for their children. Another does acts of kindness on her loved ones’ birthday and invites us to do the same to honor her daughter.

As one blogger, a co-founder of a group that comforts families facing infant loss, wrote, “the years go so quickly, even as some of the days drag their feet.” She puts a cupcake at her daughter’s grave and sings Happy Birthday there.

Grief doesn’t magically end at a certain point, the Mayo Clinic observes. They reassuringly note a resurgence of grief on special days throughout the year is “sometimes called an anniversary reaction” and isn’t “necessarily a setback in the grieving process.”

The clinic’s suggestions for reawakened grief include:

  • Be prepared. Anniversary reactions are normal. Knowing that you’re likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
  • Reminisce about your relationship. Focus on the good things about your relationship with your loved one and the time you had together, rather than the loss.
  • Start a new tradition. Make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one’s name on birthdays or holidays, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one.
  • Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. It’s OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.

Dr. Christina Hibbert, who created a three-minute therapeutic YouTube video addressing “Death Anniversaries, Birthdays and Holidays,” notes the first year is the hardest because we don’t know what to expect.

Moving forward, expectations may be clearer, but grief can still rise and fall. Some years the birthday will go by as a day of happy memories. Another day, it will be a rough day recalling sadness.

In addressing sorrow on anniversaries such as birthdays, there’s no best advice. Everyone experiences grief differently, just as we all celebrate our birthdays with individual flair.

If someone you love’s candle has been snuffed, I hope you find some solace in a few of these strategies about marking the birthday with grief or laughter.


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