The first birthday after someone dies | Cruse Bereavement Care

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Kate Mitchell, 19 April 2021

Kate is Communications and Content Manager at Cruse

Coping with birthdays

Wednesday 21st April is Her Majesty The Queen’s birthday. Coming so soon after the death of her husband the Duke of Edinburgh no-one will be expecting a normal celebration. But whenever the first birthday after a major bereavement comes along, it will always be a significant milestone. Here we share some ideas on how to cope. 

Normally birthdays are a time for celebration and for bringing people together. But after someone dies, special times like birthdays can make it more obvious and painful than ever that someone is missing. 

Dealing with your birthday after someone dies 

After someone dies celebrating the fact that we are a year older can feel like the very last thing we want to do. Birthdays are supposed to be special days and there can be a lot of pressure, even in normal circumstances, to feel like we are making the most of them. You may find that friends and relatives want to mark the occasion and make it special for you, even if you want to keep things very quiet.

Alternatively, the person who died might have been the one who made plans with or for you, and you might no longer have the same options for marking the day. It could feel like a particularly lonely time. We are also still dealing with a number of pandemic restrictions which have lead to many of us grieving in isolation.

If the person who died was older than you, there may come a birthday when you overtake them and reach an age that they never did, which can seem very poignant.  

Coping tips 

  • Remember it’s your birthday and you should do what’s right for you.  
  • If you want to ignore the day, especially if your bereavement was quite recent, that’s fine. 
  • Alternatively if you want to do something nice for yourself, that’s fine too. Grieving is not a linear journey and as time goes on it’s very normal to want to organise normal happy times (as much as is possible) - it doesn’t mean you care less about the person who died, or won’t have other days where your focus is on them and on your loss. 
  • It’s OK to buy yourself a present, maybe something you know they would like you to have.  
  • If you have young children, and the person who died would normally have helped them to prepare for your birthday, you might want to ask a close friend or relative to help them. 
  • It can help to think and plan in advance what you would like to do, but leave in a bit of flexibility, especially if it’s the first birthday after someone died – it's fine to change your mind about what you want to do too, as it’s not possible to know exactly how you will feel. 

Coping with the birthday of someone who has died

The birthday of someone close to you who has died will also be a difficult occasion. It marks the day when your relative or friend should have become a year older, and the fact that this is no longer happening can seem very sad. 

The date will already be firmly associated with them, and bring up memories of birthdays in years gone by. There might be happy memories to treasure, but these can also bring up a lot of sadness, especially on the first birthday after they died. There may also be times which didn’t go so well, and this can sometimes come with a generous side helping of guilt – for example if we feel that we didn’t make the most of the times when the person was alive.  

Coping tips

  • Mark the day in a way which feels right to you and your family. There are no rules, it’s up to you. 
  • People often tell us that the lead up to and anticipation of a birthday or anniversary can be worse than the actual event. Planning in advance so that you know what is going to happen can help, but you might want to keep a little flexibility to take account of how you feel on the day. 
  • Many people like to get together with friends or family to do something they know the person who died would enjoy. You could take a trip to somewhere that was special to them (as restrictions allow) play some of their favourite music, or watch a film they loved. 
  • You can write a card to them, and put it up in your house or take it to their resting place or some other place which was meaningful. 
  • Some people like to buy presents too – you can keep these, or pass them on to someone else afterwards. Or you might like to make a donation to a charity which was important to them. 

Further help

Whatever you decide to do, and whoever’s birthday it is, it will be an emotional time. Cruse is here to help if you need someone to talk to. 

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