Although I had a funeral for Adrian, I also wanted to do something special to celebrate his life on what would have been his first birthday. I wanted something not so much focused on grief, but more on his impact; a type of celebration. I had already decided to build this website, and so it seemed natural to have a party and document both its launch and my son’s short but beautiful life.
Planning the First Birthday for a Stillborn Child
As with a funeral, there aren’t many resources for planning the celebration of life of a stillborn child. A lot of it I made up for myself. I started several months out, looking at local venues and designing the invitations. I decided on a local hotel with a private beach that allowed bonfires, and booked the three hours surrounding sunset. It felt like a beautiful place for celebration.
I created the invitation list from family and friends I felt close to, and also invited many who had attended Adrian’s funeral. I knew that since we had moved, many if not most would be unable to attend, but I wanted everyone to feel included. I sent the invitations at the end of April.
Invitation to Adrian’s First Birthday
Because I wanted the event to be more of a celebration, I didn’t plan a formal program. Instead, I planned for finger food, small tables for mingling, and activities: rock painting and a bonfire. I found a website with instructions for rock painting, and purchased the recommended paints and paint pens. I also looked around the city for rocks, but most that I found were small or not smooth, so I purchased river stones online.
My local friend Alex* offered to perform a small ceremony at the beginning and end of the event, and we worked together to create something meaningful. It was also important to me that we have a birthday cake, and I found a bakery that would do a custom vegan cake with an elephant topper.
The colors were modeled off of the colors I had chosen for Adrian’s nursery, and I incorporated a bit of our new environment with rowboat centerpieces holding arrangements of daisies, roses and bluebonnets. I also selected my favorite photo of Adrian, created a playlist, and purchased helium and balloons.
Flowers, bubbles, and business cards for AdrianJamesHernandez.com (Synch Media)
As I had anticipated, many people I invited were unable to attend, and it was a small gathering. But my sister and cousin both flew in, as well as my friend Phedre* who I had met at a retreat for bereaved mothers. She actually came a few days early and helped me to prepare. There were also friends from my local support group and work, as well as my former roommate and the doula who had been accompanying me to my pre-conception appointments while I was planning for Adrian’s younger sibling. It helped to be surrounded by people who cared.
Phedre and Miranda at the beach (photos used with permission)
The Day of the Event
On the morning of Adrian’s birthday, my cousin and I walked to the beach again and I stood in the water. It’s always cold in the water in California, but the coldness felt good to me; grounding. I had been up late the night before, putting the final touches on this website, and I should have been tired, but I was oddly keyed up. It felt a bit like the day of his funeral; that sense of waiting.
At home, we ordered sushi and I think someone napped. Two of my three visitors were from different time zones, and my cousin had had an early flight that morning. I chatted with my web designer, and confirmed we were ready for the launch. The site went live at 3:31pm CST. It was one year after Adrian had been born.
I sent an email to family and friends with the link. Many hadn’t known I was preparing this, so I’m sure it was a surprise. I watched the analytics page for a while, feeling proud that these words about my son were finally being seen. I also posted links on Instagram and Twitter. Watching the traffic flow felt like an acknowledgement that Adrian’s life was important to more people than just me.
We arrived a little early to set up, but people still arrived before we were completely ready. It became a group effort, and was perfectly imperfect.
Adrian’s Birthday (Synch Media)
Alex and Phedre during the clearing roads smudging (Synch Media)
We also set a medicine wheel in the form of a large circle around the space where the bonfire would be later that evening. I held Adrian’s elephant with me, and thought about him being at peace. I still don’t know what or even if I believe, but those ceremonies felt right.
Alex and Miranda creating the medicine wheel (Synch Media)
Back on the deck, we ate and painted rocks, and in general, it was a party. I took photos of the finished rocks, and asked attendees to leave them in places that felt special. Each rock was also labeled with a serial number and the website so we can track them as they are found. I look forward to hearing from people who find them.
Painted rocks (Synch Media)
As it got closer to sunset, we moved from the deck to the beach. The hotel had set up for a bonfire, and left a pile of wood to keep it going. They also brought down the cake and plates, and we sat in a circle and talked for a bit.
As much as I write to and about Adrian, I still had trouble writing something special for that evening. As late as the day prior, I had been going through my old letters, looking for something fitting. And I did read part of a letter, one I had written in January. But I also talked about what Adrian meant for me, and how I had changed as his mother. This evening was in his honor, and my life was part of that. He was and is a permanent part of me. I called it his second eulogy.
Earlier in the evening, Alex had offered the guests the opportunity to participate in a release ceremony. Each person who participated wrote down two wishes: one for themselves and one for someone they love. After I spoke, we went around the circle and those who wanted to verbally shared their wishes, then burned the papers. It was a symbolic gesture of wishing and release.
When it was my turn, I thought about the sign I had seen while walking downtown in January, not long before I had written that same January letter.
Of all the options listed, I had chosen hope. And hope was my wish for myself and the world. I spoke the word and placed my paper into the fire, and then Alex closed the wheel, and we cut into Adrian’s cake.
We had been the first group to start a bonfire on the beach that evening, but others now surrounded us, points of light in the dark. The guests drifted away, and I sat with Alex on the sand, watching the fire and listening to the waves. It was exactly where I had planned to be, one year and two days prior. It was also very different, but it was still his birthday.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.
1 – The ceremonies Alex performed were taught to her by her mentors. I include links to Wikipedia articles as a general explanation only
Adrian’s Story: Adrian’s Funeral
Miranda’s Blog: Second Eulogy
Letters to Adrian: Mon, Jan 29, 2018, 5:09 AM
Letters to Adrian: Sat, Jun 30, 2018, some time in the morning
Letters to Adrian: A Letter to My Son on His First Birthday
Resources Blog: 13 Ways to Spend your Deceased Child’s Birthday, Due Date, or Death Anniversary