Remembering a Birthday after a Child Dies

Surprise kindness

Surprise Kindness

 

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What can ease our hearts as we live with growing trepidation of an upcoming birthday, especially in the earliest years of bereavement?   I remember a rising disquiet of the soul the first year after our daughter died as November 5 drew closer.  Part of the joy of celebrating one we love are the days prior…finding a gift we hope gives them pleasure, baking favorite desserts, gathering family and friends together.  All serve the intent of saying “we’re so glad you were born!”

Now bereft, a great emptiness emerges.

So common is the apprehension during anticipation of special days, the Mayo Clinic calls this reawakened grief  an “anniversary reaction.”  Like other grief resources, they encourage being prepared for this possibility by having a strategy to cope, such as connecting with others, writing a letter to your child, or starting a new tradition. An in-depth grief resource online www.opentohope.com offers an extensive list of thoughtful suggestions for strategies that families might find useful.

It seems that the challenge is finding a balance between intention, such as creatively planning how to face this day, and attention, staying open-hearted to receiving the serendipity surprises that days often bring.

Intention

For intention, Jim and I decided that we’d at least plan something special to do together on her birthdays.  But we also were both teaching that first November 5.  A student in my class wrote about her Dusty Strings small folk harp that she played for children in hospitals to lift their spirit.  So on Krista’s birthday, I invited her to bring this wonderful white maple harp into my basement office.  As she played “Morning Has Broken,” a beautiful hymn sung at Krista’s baptism and Memorial services, other faculty and students gathered around to hear more.  A memorable moment of joy for all of us.

For intention, Mary Beth Baker, who loves to cook, often makes her son Stephen’s favorite lemon meringue pie on his birthday. After he was killed in a motorcycle accident, it gives her hands and heart a sweet way to ease the day.  When her daughter’s 21st birthday loomed, Jan Skaggs invited Cameron’s friends to her favorite restaurant. “We gave them each a present from Cameron’s things, such as books she had underlined, favorite jewelry or scarves, music from her collection.”  Rather than a time of depression, “Cameron’s birthday turned into a magical night of laughter, storytelling and appreciation for how friends loved her deeply.”

In Morning Has Broken, one of the verses says,

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning

Born of the one light, Eden saw play.

Praise with elation, praise every morning

God’s re-creation of the new day.

Living with Attentiveness

Living open-hearted, and recognizing surprising graces helps us experience the “re-creation of a new day.”  In many ways, every day still calls us to find this balance of living between intention and attention…planning and setting goals, yet still living in attentive mindfulness to the day’s generous moments.

Our serendipity surprise came this week when a new family in our neighborhood dropped off a small pink box and card at our doorstep.  Laura, a neighbor, helped her four children make us a delicious batch of raspberry oat bar cookies.  They included a kind note in memory of Krista’s birthday.  Such kindness lightens the day!

One November 5, always the start of a cold winter in Spokane, I stopped off at a local nursery.  The staff person asked, “Do you want some roses?  We’re giving them away because we don’t have time to plant them.  No guarantees they’ll survive.”   So I left with ten free rose bushes in yellows, apricots, cream, and gold.  We planted and mulched them that very afternoon, with hopes the rockery might shield them enough to survive their first freezing winter.  To our sheer delight, they’ve bloomed every summer since…nurtured with Jim’s compost (black gold, I call it) and love.  When they shimmer in the morning sunlight, their exquisite beauty elates us and all the neighbors walking by.

The encouraging news in listening to parents describe their pilgrimage through loss is that major milestone days become easier. As one father described, “the edges in pain soften.” 

 Your Stories

What has your family done that eases the sorrow of this significant day?  Or, have you brought kindness to a family remembering a loved one?  Any surprises?   I’d love to hear your experiences!



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Pilgrimage (54 Posts)

Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child offers encouragement and information for other parents living in the long season of sorrow. Drawn from interviews from mothers and fathers on their grief journey, plus Linda Lawrence Hunt's memoir of their family's loss, it also includes recent research on grief, resilience, and creative healing.


2 Responses to Remembering a Birthday after a Child Dies

  • Good Morning Linda,
    I like the birthday entry about your neighbor and the yummy cookies, some folks are angels others awkwardly approach the child’s birthday with a, “thinking of you today” by text or email, which can mean a lot depending on the person it’s coming from.
    I have asked family and loved ones to write a favorite memory of Christopher and mail it to us, we then add it to a book we’ve kept over the years to read out loud on his birthday often sitting in the grass at his grave. It’s really quite a spiritual experience hearing a story from others that we may not of known about Chris, some make us laugh and some we smile through our tears as we listen. It truly is a gift to have these slices of our sons life replayed for us. We are drawn even closer to the life we now miss so badly but celebrate through the memories of our own and through the lives Chris touched of our extended family. The children in our families (nieces and nephews) also find meaning in intentional writings of memories about their cousin. Also some pretty pinched off adults lacking expression skills also find this exercise healing and enjoyable to be creative telling funny memories of a teenage boy who was such a delight to be around.
    Thanks for asking us to share specific ideas about a theme on your blog, it’s healing
    for us to relive our own moments of sorrow or comfort. As you we’ll know, writing is a pathway to opening insights and self awareness so that we might live the life intended for us with intention and joy.
    Love,
    Sheree

    • Sheree,
      Thanks for sharing this very creative idea! I’m sure it proves a helpful way for extended family to also feel a part of your family as they remember Chris.

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About Linda
For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.

Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff.
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Support for Parents

+ Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors On-line forum and website www.allianceofhope.org

+ American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) (Formerly Candlelighters Childhood Cancer) www.acco.org

+ Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends.org

+ First Candle: www.firstcandle.org Support for Stillborn and SIDS deaths

+ Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) www.catholiccharities.net/loss

+ MISS Foundation (also in Spanish) www.missfoundation.org On-line support groups : Infant & toddler death and advocacy

+Parents of Murdered Children www.pomc.com

+ TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: www.taps.org 1-800-959 3277 for survivors of military deaths