It may feel strange to celebrate things like birthdays and anniversaries of loved ones once they are gone. It may seem strange to have a birthday party for those not with us, or to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone who is not present. But, as I have learned over the course of the last seven years since losing my brother, these times of celebration are for me and those of us he left behind. They are important days to stop and purposefully remember his life, more than grieve his death. They are to somehow mark a moment in time when that life was here and to remember those past moments spent together. It is to prove in a small way that they are not forgotten.
We celebrate my brother’s birthday every year. My boys, my husband and I make a point to think about and talk about Uncle Dustin — a lot. My boys did not know him so these times are important to me. I love to share with the boys how much like him they each are. We love to look at pictures and make funny faces that match his funny faces. He had lots of those.
Some years allow for an all-out birthday party. We may bake a cake, put up streamers and put up our traditional birthday banner. We may eat his favorite meal or at the very least eat a slice of watermelon in his honor (one of his favorites — a necessity for celebrating anything related to him).
Every year we release balloons. We tell the kids we are sending his birthday party to him in Heaven. This year, taking a cue from my sister, we all wrote on our balloons. We wrote messages to him, each our own “Happy Birthday” wish.
Each of the kids chose the colors they thought he would like; it’s an important part of the tradition we are creating. One of them usually chooses an “army” colored one, since he will forever be a soldier in their mind. Then, we take our balloons outside, sing a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday” and send off our well wishes to heaven.
At Christmas time, in his memory, we make sure there is always a package of Skittles in everyone’s stocking; another one of his favorites.
As a tribute to my brother’s frequent ‘duck face’ expression, whenever the siblings are all together we must take at least one photo posed this way; at special celebrations, at graduations, at my sister’s wedding last year — I think that was my favorite. Some of my nieces are even actively working on perfecting this way to “honor” their uncle.
Like so many things we do to keep him alive to us, these moments are simply purposeful seconds taken to remember and reflect on someone we still love. Though he is not here in plain sight, we keep him with us during these moments of celebration, making him still a part of it.
What are some ways that you make your missing loved one part of your celebrations?