From family amusement park trips to sweet 16s, our culture holds many traditions for celebrating or observing the birthday of a living child. We unfortunately fall short in common ways to celebrate or observe the birthday of a child who is deceased.
This can be especially difficult when a child’s birthday is so closely associated with his or her death, as is the case with children lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth. But this doesn’t mean those birthdays shouldn’t be observed.
Below are some potential ways to spend your deceased child’s birthday:
Have a party or special event
The birth of a living child is celebrated each year and a deceased child’s birthday should be no different. If you want to celebrate your deceased child’s birthday, a party is a beautiful way to do so. I had a beachside party and bonfire for my deceased son Adrian’s first birthday.
Hold a funeral or memorial service
While funerals are often held close to the date of death, they don’t have to be. Some bereaved families choose to hold funerals or memorial ceremonies years after their child’s death. Looking for inspiration? Check out our detailed funeral and memorial service planning guide.
Volunteer or perform acts of charity
Many bereaved parents spend their child’s birthday volunteering or performing acts of kindness. If there is a charity or cause that feels meaningful to you, volunteering may be a good way to spend the day.
Perform random acts of kindness
Another option is to perform acts of kindness in your child’s name. This could be something as simple as mowing a neighbor’s lawn or sending a meal to a friend. If you choose this activity, take a look at our printable acts of kindness cards.
Host a fundraiser or other charitable event
If you feel up to a more involved activity, you can host an event to raise money or resources for charity. Some options may include:
- Toy, food, or clothing drive
- Fundraising 5K
- Fundraising concert, comedy event, or open mic night
- Fundraising yard sale
- Fundraising dinner
- Awareness event
Fundraising guide Classy.org lists several more ideas for charitable events on their site.
Spend the day with family
If you feel comforted by spending time with family, you may choose to spend the day together. This could be as simple as a quiet meal at home or hiking in nature together. You can also set time aside to look through photos or mementos of your deceased child, or to tell stories or talk about sweet memories. If it feels right, this may even become an annual tradition.
Spend the day alone
Alternately, some bereaved parents may wish to spend their child’s birthday alone. They might want to look through photos and mementos by themselves, or spend time alone outdoors. This is an equally valid choice.
Write a letter or birthday card for your child
Many bereaved parents find comfort in writing to or about their deceased child. A birthday letter might be a good place to discuss your thoughts over the past year, and talk about the things your child has missed. You can also discuss what you think your child might be doing this year if they were living, and how the family would or did celebrate them this year.
Looking for inspiration? We offer free writing prompts and downloadable greeting cards, including customizable cards specifically for the deceased child.
Make art inspired by or in honor of your child
You may also find comfort in making art in honor of your child. If you need inspiration or don’t feel artistically talented, there are multiple sites that offer suggestions or guided artistic activities. One popular activity is creating painted rocks that you can leave in public places for others to find.
Decorate your child’s grave, memorial shelf, or another place that feels special to you
If your child was buried, you may find comfort in decorating his or her tombstone or grave with birthday streamers and balloons or other meaningful decorations. If your child was cremated, you may wish to decorate his or her urn or a memorial shelf or wall in your home.
Do what you would do if your child were alive
As living children grow older, birthday celebrations grow and change. The same can be true of a deceased child’s birthday. If your child were alive this year, what might you be doing for their birthday? Going to an amusement park? Playing miniature golf? If it feels right, consider doing these things in memory of your child.
Buy a toy or special item you would have purchased for your child
Bereaved parents often talk about visiting stores and thinking about what clothes their child might have been wearing today or what toys they might have been playing with. If there is a special toy or outfit that catches your eye, consider purchasing it and donating it to charity in honor of your deceased child.
Request that friends and family celebrate or honor your child along with you
Friends and family often want to support us on meaningful days like our deceased child’s birthday, but they may not know how. If there is something you would like your loved ones to do to show support, let them know. Some ideas include:
- Sending birthday cards
- Attending your celebration or event
- Making donations to a designated charity
- Volunteering for a designated charity
- Performing acts of charity or kindness
Regardless of how you choose to spend the day, please know your deceased child and their birthday will always matter. Your love and grief are honored, now and always.
Adrian’s Story: Adrian’s First Birthday
Resources Blog: Ways to Honor Your Deceased Child
Free customizable baby loss sympathy and remembrance cards
Sea Glass Parenting; A Community for Parents after the Death of a Child