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  • Writer's pictureShelbi Bailey

5 Ways to make the birthdays of your lost loved ones a happy experience.

Last year was the first birthday that came with heartache. Hank should have been 1. I should have been celebrating with cake smash pictures and chaos. Instead I spent the month leading up to it crying.

I was so nervous about how it’d feel. Would anyone remember that wasn’t me? This was one of the best and worst days of my life. Would the PTSD be too much to bare?

Then the day came and my friends brought a cake, and my parents had a sweet dinner and I was numb. I still didn’t know if I should feel sad or happy. I was so confused.

This year I don’t want to have a repeat of that experience. My friends loved me and my son more than I did. This year I am preparing a week early for the inevitable so that instead of being a robot I can do something to remember him. In preparation for this, I’ve created this list of 5 ways to make these sad birthdays a happy experience.

Last year we did a donation to the local foster system. This year we are donating to the Cheyenne Safe House, and so many people have offered to help!

1. Plan a Service Project

The top idea I’ve had for Hanks birthday is to plan a service project. When I do service in his name I feel like I am honoring him and making him proud. This is when I am pulled out of my “why me” mindset and reminded that there are so many people struggling with much harder things than me. This is when I feel closest to him.

Some ideas of service projects you could choose are: -Donating canned goods/winter clothes to a homeless shelter -Donating diapers and snack items and nice books or toys to DFS for children in the foster system in your state. When they first arrive in foster care they are often in shock while waiting to be placed. The poor children have experienced tragedy. This allows something bright to distract them. -Make and send packages for missionaries or military members. Give them a piece of home to brighten their day. -Donate stuffed animals and books to the PICU in your town. -Sew blankets for first responders to keep in their cars. These can help poor families that are traumatized in a moment of tragedy.

I’m sure there are tons more service projects you could do, but these are the first ones that came to my mind. 2. Plant a tree

I have a sweet friend that lost her son around the same time as me. For his first birthday she and her husband planted a tree. I think this is so beautiful because she was using the heartache of death and transforming that grief to something productive. She brought new life into the world from her grief. What a beautiful tribute!

Look at that little baby Shelbi! Those arms!

3. Have a fundraising dinner for a scholarship, medical research or charity of your choice

This goes along the same lines as service project, but I think this is another great idea. When I was in high school I received a scholarship in memory of a beautiful young woman that was tragically taken too early. At the time I was honored because I truly loved her parents (one of my favorite teachers.), but now I feel so much more blessed to have shared that.

There is so much need in the world, and what a great way to meet a need while remembering a loved one. If you like hosting parties this is a great way to make something sad into a happy and useful occasion.

My grandpa loved nature. Finding Asters on this trip, after losing my grandpa, was very healing and special for my grandma.

4. Go on a trip

Sometimes I like to think that just because Hank isn’t with us physically, doesn’t mean that he can’t be with us in spirit. I have a friend that takes a necklace everywhere to represent her sweet baby that she lost. I think this is a lovely tribute. This year I took my grandma home through the Tetons. While we were driving it was so gorgeous that I made her stop every 20 minutes for more pictures. While we were at one stop she found a bush of asters. Asters only bloom briefly at the beginning of fall. They are a gorgeous, but fleeting, flower. This was so special for my grandma because she and my grandpa loved to stop for the Asters on their drives. It felt like a gift from him.

After Hank died I often wanted to run away to a cabin without any contact with the outside world. Then maybe I could forget. That probably isn’t healthy, but I think that when done correctly, trips can help take grief and allow a space for you to unwind and feel closure.

Since taking this picture they have added grass around his headstone. It's much less depressing than this dirty mud bank. The snow man was necessary before!

5. Visit their headstone then go home and eat junk food and cry

OK, maybe this isn’t super happy, but I really feel that sometimes a good cry is called for. Maybe you can’t handle being around people. That doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad example for your child. Birthdays of lost loved ones are hard, and sometimes the best way we can support them is just to survive the heartache that we might be feeling.

I hope this helps someone through their grief. Milestones are so difficult when people are grieving.

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