Next week would have been a milestone birthday for Ellie — ten years old. I share a birth month with her — we were born a week apart. For eight years we shared a birthday party, and I really enjoyed celebrating together with her. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to celebrate her birthday now that she isn’t here anymore.
Last year, it had only been four months since she died. Our extended family came together here at our house, like we usually did, but without a birthday cake. We would all be thinking about her anyway; so why not think about her together, with people who understand spontaneous tears paired with laughter? It was comforting to spend the day as a family, sharing stories, looking at photos, watching home movies.
This birthday, Ellie has been gone longer. But she is never far from mind. Her pictures are up in our house, and will stay up until we’re gone too. I have a special cedar chest where I keep special items that used to be be hers. The kids still play with her giant stuffed bear and Ming-Ming the Duck (from the Wonder Pets).
I’ve been touched by how often the kids have asked about her lately. They must somehow remember that her birthday is coming. Little Girl asked if Ellie could stand up now, and if she could talk. They both asked if Ellie will look like herself when we see her in heaven. These are tough questions to answer — does anyone who hasn’t been past their own death really know what happens and what we’re like? I do my best to reassure the kids that our bodies are part of our personhood and that while we will have new perfect bodies one day, we will still look like ourselves…somehow.
For many of us, this last year has been one of most difficult of our lives. It seems right to get together again on her birthday weekend. We will remember the day she joined our family, and all the adventures she took us on in her short eight years and eight months. I’m sure we’ll cry, but I know we will laugh too. We’re planning to play games, and we will eat good food (it’s all about the food, right?). I think she would want us to enjoy her special day.
How do you observe special days in the life of a loved one who has passed away?