Birthday Rituals After Your Person (Or The Relationship) Dies

When someone dies, or a relationship ends for any reason, we don’t just forget the person’s birthday, right? That date isn’t magically erased from our consciousness. But what can we do about it? What are some healthy, interesting birthday rituals? Ways to acknowledge that special day, even when we can’t share it with the celebrant. Is that even a thing? And is it OK?

Celebrating a Deceased Loved One’s Birthday

Post-death birthday commemorations can be a meaningful way to honor your special person’s memory and keep their spirit alive. Here are some birthday rituals and activities I’ve worked on with clients over the years.

Cemetery Visits

Many of my clients find comfort in visiting the grave or memorial site on birthdays and other special dates, like wedding anniversaries. We bring flowers, candles, rocks, or other tokens of remembrance to lay on the tombstone or memorial.

Spending a few precious moments there, talking to them, and “visiting” feels cathartic. Sometimes cleaning up the grave site and ensuring it’s well-maintained can also be a thoughtful gesture.

Sharing a Meal

My clients and I have held birthday meals, served the deceased’s favorite foods, and enjoyed it in their honor. Or we have invited friends and family to bring dishes that the person loved.

We light a candle and place it in front of an empty chair at the table. It can be a Yahrzeit candle for my Jewish clients or just a plain white candle for others. We have also placed the candle in a dedicated space in the home, such as a memory corner with photographs and some of the deceased’s personal items.

Memory Circles

Before or after the birthday meal, we gather with loved ones to share stories, memories, and anecdotes about the deceased. Many clients and I have created a memory jar where people write down their favorite memories or things they miss about the person. Then we read them, one by one.

You can gather together with other loved ones and write birthday messages on biodegradable balloons or inside sky lanterns. Then release them into the sky.

Creating a Legacy Project

At a birthday after my client dies, I’ll often gather with their loved ones to collect photos, stories, and mementos. We create a scrapbook or memory book with these items.

Other legacy projects include making a quilt with their clothes or fabrics that remind us of them. For my most creative clients, we engage in art or craft projects with items that were meaningful to the deceased. Then we each leave the event with a “party favor” to keep or hang in our homes.

During these events, we often play their favorite songs softly in the background. Some of my clients enjoy having favorite movies or television shows playing instead.

Memorial Garden

It can be especially meaningful for spring or summer birthdays to plant a tree or create a small garden in memory of the person who’s died. Then we add new plants or flowers each year for as long as it brings us comfort.

Charity and Volunteering

Donate to a charity that was important to the deceased or an organization that they supported. Losing ourselves in service to others is a wonderful way to celebrate someone on their post-death birthday and feel better at the same time. Volunteer for a few hours in their honor at an organization they cared about.

Writing Journals or Letters

Write a letter to the deceased, expressing your thoughts and feelings, while wishing them a happy birthday. Or keep a journal where you write about your memories and experiences related to the deceased.

Gatherings or Memorial Events

I’ve had several clients invite me to host an annual birthday party or memorial service in their loved one’s memory. We organize a walk or run in their honor, especially if they were active or passionate about a cause.

Each of these birthday rituals provides a way to honor the deceased, keeping their memory alive while also offering a form of comfort and connection for those who loved them.

Is It Healthy To Celebrate a Person’s Birthday When the Relationship Ends?

Honoring a person’s birthday after the demise of the relationship is a delicate but meaningful way to acknowledge the impact they had on your life. A Chicago-area zoo allows you to name a cockroach after the person and then watch remotely as they feed said cockroach to an animal.

That’s something.

Here are other ideas.

Private Reflection

Spend some quiet time reflecting on the positive memories and lessons learned from the relationship. Engage in meditation or prayer to send positive birthday thoughts or blessings to the person. Lovingkindness meditation is an excellent way to do this and boost your mood at the same time.

Express Your Thoughts

Yes, by all means, express yourself. But I’d argue against posting these “expressions” on personal blogs or social media. Trust me.

Instead, write a birthday letter expressing your feelings – and then throw it away. The act of writing is often all you need to help process your emotions.

Another interesting ritual is taking some things that remind you of the person to a ceremonial burning. I don’t have experience in this realm, yet, but I’m looking forward to it! Gather cards, letters, pictures, small gifts, or other mementos and (under the right circumstances) burn them.

As the burning items turn to ash, consider cleansing the air (and your spirit) afterward with sage or cedar. Say, “I release you” or “I’m done” when finished.

Make Meaning

Participate in an activity or hobby they enjoyed. It could be something you did together or something special to them.

Express your feelings through creative outlets like painting, drawing, or playing music.

Prepare a birthday meal or a dish they loved. This can be a comforting way to remember them and celebrate their life. Or go to a place that held significance in your relationship. This could be a park, café, or any location where you shared memorable moments.

Remember that it’s often easier to use anger as a shield when relationships end. It helps to keep us apart from someone. But I’d argue it’s better in the long run to remember the love you felt for someone and celebrate what you learned from the experience, even if it’s a quiet celebration.

Practice Self-Care

Engage in activities that bring you peace and comfort, such as taking a walk in nature, reading a favorite book, or enjoying a relaxing bath. If you feel comfortable, talk about the person with a trusted friend or family member. Sharing stories and memories can be a way to honor their impact on your life.

Honoring a person’s birthday after the relationship ends is a personal decision, and it’s important to choose an approach that feels right for you. It’s about finding a balance between honoring their memory and taking care of your own well-being.

Is This Healthy?

Whether it is good for your mental health to celebrate the birthday of someone dead or estranged depends on your circumstances, emotional state, and the nature of the relationship. Celebrating a birthday can be a way to honor the positive aspects of your past relationship, which can aid in the healing process.

It can provide a structured way to process grief and loss, helping you to work through your emotions. If it’s for a deceased person, birthday rituals help maintain a sense of connection and keep their memory alive in a meaningful way.

Reflecting on the relationship, even if it ended badly, can provide insights and foster personal growth. Engaging in birthday rituals provides a sense of continuity and stability, which can be comforting during times of change or loss.

It can also create new traditions in their memory and contribute to a sense of purpose and positivity.

Potential Challenges

For some, celebrating birthdays might reopen emotional wounds, causing distress rather than comfort. It might bring up mixed emotions, including sadness, anger, or regret, which can be challenging to navigate.

If the person you’re celebrating is estranged, rituals might highlight unresolved issues, potentially exacerbating feelings of hurt or resentment.

Consider whether you feel ready to engage in a birthday ritual. It’s okay to decide that you’re not ready or that you prefer a different way to honor the person.

Healthy Suggestions

Establish boundaries around how you celebrate and how much time you spend on these activities. Ensure it doesn’t interfere with your daily functioning.

If you find it helpful, involve a death doula and supportive friends or family members in the process. Sharing experiences can provide comfort and perspective. If you’re struggling with intense emotions, consider speaking with a mental health professional for guidance.

Listen to your feelings and be gentle with yourself, making choices that support your health and healing. Contact me anytime for support.

About the Author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like these