Celebrate You More, Mourn You Less

After losing my dad suddenly to a heart condition, I noticed for many years that I would start to feel anxious and unnerved for the week leading up to major holidays, the anniversary of my dad’s death, and most of all, his birthday.

It always struck me as ironic. It was still called his birthday, even though he was gone. It was a day marking an age that he didn’t have the chance to reach. A day that for most people celebrates a new year of life, to me was another reminder of an untimely death.

His birthdays came and went for nine years with me spending March 12th in solitude. I shut myself off to friends, family, and everyone who cared about me. I lied when they asked if I was okay. I convinced myself that this was my grief, my story, my hard day, and nobody else could understand. It seemed easier to deal with it by myself, to not have to explain, to shut off emotions, and let a numbness wash over me.

In my senior year of college, March 12th approached as it always did… but for some reason, that year was different. I was a wreck – overcome with emotion, filled with anxiety, and struck with a realization I hadn’t allowed myself to come to terms with: I missed my dad.

I wanted to celebrate with him, to call him on the phone and sing him happy birthday, to buy him a present and mail it in a care package to Richmond, or drive three hours there to have dinner with him. Admitting these things to myself reopened wounds that I had been denying, because in the back of my mind I knew how painful it would be.

So on the eve of what would have been my dad’s 49th birthday, I was broken. Not knowing how to deal with this sudden rush of emotions, I called my mentor, Lynne. I told her how I was feeling, how much it hurt, and asked her what I could do to make it better. Lynne validated everything I was feeling and reassured me that this wasn’t a bad thing – it was a step forward. Then she made a suggestion that surprised me. She said “If you wish you could celebrate your dad’s birthday with him, you should do it. Why don’t you take tomorrow off and have a birthday party for him?”

I thought through this for a little while, and felt like I couldn’t throw a party for my dad. Doing something like that would make me crazy. Could I actually consider myself a sane person if I spent the day having a birthday party for my dead father? What would my roommate think?

But by the end of the night, I decided to do it. I took the next day off from classes and schoolwork, and spent my day doing only things my dad and I loved to do.

I woke up that morning, put my dad’s picture in the main room of my apartment, and moved on to my first activity: breakfast. When I was a kid, if we had time before school my dad and I would make pastina.

So, I boiled the tiny pasta in the water, added the butter, and cracked an egg into the middle. I then had to stir as fast as I could to make sure the egg wouldn’t congeal before spreading to the entire dish. As I stirred, I could almost hear my dad’s voice over my shoulder, jokingly cheering “Stiiiiiiiiir! Faster, faster, faster!” I laughed out loud and realized that in that moment, I felt more connected to my dad than I had in a long time.

For the rest of the day, I spent my time doing things I knew my dad would have loved to do if he could have been there with me. I watched one of our favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I thought about which parts he told me were his favorites, and felt a special elation when those events unfolded on the TV screen.

When the movie was over, I went to the grocery store to get ingredients to make one of his favorite dinners, taking care to purchase only authentic Italian products, which he had taught me to pick out. I came home and prepared linguini with clam sauce, remembering his number one rule of cooking: “Don’t be afraid of the gaaaah-lic!” (in a cheesy Italian accent, of course).

Finally, I made him a birthday cake, candles and all. My best friend at college, who had also lost her father, came over and we shared the cake outside on a beautiful Blacksburg night while exchanging memories of dads.

When the day was over, I was filled with peace beyond explanation. I had never felt so close to my father in the nine years since he had died. I knew that I needed to continue to honor him in this way, and that finding joy in celebrating his memory is exactly what he would want me to do.

For the past few years, my dad’s birthday has become an entirely new milestone for me. Rather than being one of the “hard days,” it is now a day that I look forward to, and get excited about. His birthday has become an opportunity to share memories with people in my life who never got to know my dad, as well as those who did. One of my dad’s favorite things to do was eat great Italian food at a table full of people he loved. Tonight, I am going to celebrate his birthday by doing just that.

I recently heard two teenage girls share a poem they wrote in memory of their fathers. All of their words were beautiful, but the line that stuck with me was, “We will celebrate you more, and mourn you less.”

Today, on my Dad’s birthday, that is the step I am also choosing to take.

Happy birthday, Dad.

43 Comments:

  1. myk said on March 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm ... #

    I love it! Thank you for sharing.

  2. nb said on March 12, 2010 at 12:13 pm ... #

    elizabeth, that was beautiful.

  3. mary mo said on March 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm ... #

    elizabeth, this made me weep. you write beautifully. i’m so proud of you and admire your strength so much. i admire you and love you with all my heart.

  4. Melissa Thompson Sheehan said on March 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm ... #

    What a very heart warming, uplifting and helpful entry. This can truly help sooo many who need this exact thing in their lives. What a blessing you have to express your feelings with words that are so heart felt and powerful.

  5. lbh said on March 12, 2010 at 2:25 pm ... #

    eloquently said elizabeth, enjoy celebrating your dad today.

  6. Amitchell said on March 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm ... #

    Elizabeth, this was beautifully written! Thanks for sharin. Happy Birthday to your Dad…I may just do this with all those I love next year on my Dad’s birthday which is March 5th.

  7. Carrie said on March 12, 2010 at 2:50 pm ... #

    That was amazing~~ Thank you for sharing Elizabeth!! You are a light to many people!!

  8. Lisa said on March 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm ... #

    Elizabeth, birthdays and the days leading up to them have always been hard for me too. It is just another reminder of how much time has passed since I was able to see, talk to, touch, and love my husband. Thanks for sharing, and I’ll be thinking of both you and your Dad on this special day.

  9. Alisha said on March 12, 2010 at 4:31 pm ... #

    Amazing. Just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, and writing them so clearly and beautifully. I am so excited to be able to be part of this celebration, and can’t wait to hear more about the awesome man who was and always will be your Dad.

  10. bd said on March 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm ... #

    He was a lucky man. Love you.

    bd

  11. Shawn said on March 13, 2010 at 3:05 pm ... #

    elizabeth, that was beautiful and very encouraging. You write very well. I wish I could have known your dad. Sounds like a joy to be around, especially in the kitchen!

  12. Gregg said on March 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm ... #

    My beautiful Elizabeth ,
    I cried so much reading your passage. I also start having a difficult time about a week befor a speciale event I shared with your Dad since I was old enough to remember .I was so so taken back when you said his favorite dish was pasta and clam sause for this is also mine.I am so happy you found a positive way to get through a sad day filled with memories. I love you and thank you for sharing this with me. Your Uncle Gregg

  13. Shaun said on March 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm ... #

    thanks. You helped me on the eve of my sister’s death 6 years ago. I am glad that I’m not the only one that is having difficulty so long after the actual death.

  14. Jill said on April 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm ... #

    I Dad died February 13, 2009. My family became their sole care givers in 2004. Dad lived a great life at lived to be 88 years old. In the end it was his decision and in 9 hours he was gone. I am lost without him. We talked and laughed until sleep came about four hours prior to his heart giving out.
    I am an only child with a very supportive husband but I continue to be overwhelmed with boxes and boxes of his history. He loved genealogy and had written one book and left me the details for the second.
    Mom has Altheimer’s and lives with us, but can’t help with this stuff.

    Can anyone tell me what to do with the pieces of his life that he held onto for so many years. I can’t just through them out. I have a wooden cutting board he made in shop class in the 30’s. The is no value to it, except he made it.

    Any ideas.

  15. Mickey said on April 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm ... #

    Elizabeth,
    i just read your story and tears flowed from my eyes. My husband passed away in January of ‘09 and this year would have been his 60th birthday. I didn’t think that day would affect me as much as it did. i was a mess, and have been every since. I now know that next year, I, like you, will celebrate his life and the time that he had with me, our family and friends.
    Our loved ones may be gone from this earth, but live forever in our hearts and our souls.
    Thanks

  16. Linda Coerr said on May 4, 2010 at 11:25 pm ... #

    Elizabeth – Thank you for sharing this beautiful way to remember your dad. My husband passed away last year and our daughter is 10 years old. For his birthday, our daughter wanted to get a cake and put candles on it and even sing the Happy Birthday song — so that’s exactly what we did.

  17. Anonymous said on May 12, 2010 at 1:18 am ... #

    Today is my Dad’s birthday. I made his favourite breakfast for the family and have got all the ingredients for an elaborate dinner. He loved fish. So, I am going to cook fish tonight. He has been gone for more than 2 years and today by focussing on his favourite things, I try to keep despair at bay. Celebrating his birthday was my mom’s idea. She couldn’t reconcile herself to not doing anything special after celebrating the day for decades.

  18. Carla said on May 13, 2010 at 8:07 am ... #

    Elizabeth,
    My daughters 12 & 24 just lost their father in Jan. I was married to him for 16 yrs & he gave me 2 beautiful girls. He was an only child & his parents lost their son at the young age of 44. Today is his birthday. I was so gratful to this man that I had the privledge to share my life with that I needed to celebrate his birth.
    We are having our very 1st celebration tonite with just me & the girls. Just as you did, I plan to make his favorite meal & light a candle on his cake. I have movies of him too. I’m so glad that there are folks doing this. Its comforting to me & important to honor him.Personally, I don’t want people sad when I pass. I would rather have my loved ones celebrate the goodness I brought in their lives.
    Thanks for the lovely story!

  19. Jeffrey said on June 4, 2010 at 12:39 am ... #

    You rock! Beautifully and movingly written. Thank you for sharing this piece of wisdom with us.

  20. Kristen said on July 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm ... #

    Elizabeth,

    I also lost my Dad in a very sudden manner (a hiking accident) 2 months ago today. Today is also his birthday – he would have been 53. I could relate to so many of your words and I thank you for sharing them!

    My siblings, aunt and uncle are all getting together tonight to celebrate my Dad’s birthday at my house. I am making meatloaf (he loved my meatloaf) and we are having his favorite dessert…key lime pie. It makes me feel good to do this, but at the same time it is heartbreaking preparing his favorite foods and not having him here to enjoy them.

    I can also relate to what you were saying about the days leading up to a big event. Father’s Day was our first big day without him and the week leading up to it I was very anxious. However, Father’s Day itself wasn’t as bad as I expected. We all went hiking at his favorite spot, which is what we did last year for his birthday. His birthday has been much tougher for me though. Yesterday and today I have done so much crying, but I will feel better when my family gets here later.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that your article hit home for me on a day when I needed it most. Thank you!

  21. D said on July 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm ... #

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. My father died a year ago on July 11th and his birthday is July 16th. I am going to take your advice and celebrate his death and his birthday to do something special.

  22. Michelle said on July 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm ... #

    Thank you so much for writing this! I lost my son 2 1/2 month ago at the age of 16 and crazy as it sounds I was worried about how I would make it through his birthday in January. Now I know I will be doing all his favorite things, the very things I am unable to do on the day to day because it feels so strange without him. Thank you again, as now I can look forward to January 10th!

  23. Tina Falkner said on November 22, 2010 at 10:38 am ... #

    This is beautiful, Elizabeth. We choose to celebrate Kendall’s birthday too. The days leading up to her birthday are always very emotional for me. But her big brothers love to make cupcakes, decorate, blow bubbles, and have a birthday party for her. She is a special part of our lives and we will always celebrate her!

  24. Ali said on November 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm ... #

    Beautiful!

    I celebrate my dad’s birthday too…I listen to his music, tell his jokes and drink his favourite drink! I share his story with friends and strangers and they all laugh at his corny jokes :)

    Thank you for sharing your story and the amazing quote.

  25. Franklin said on November 22, 2010 at 10:47 pm ... #

    A beautiful beautiful story. Thanks for sharing. You have inspired me to celebrate more, and mourn less.

  26. jennifere docsa said on March 14, 2011 at 11:25 am ... #

    Tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday, he’s been gone for almst 2 years. I’ve been feeling anxious and emotional for a few weeks now. I planned on taking the day off of work tomorrow and staying in bed all day. Since reading your article, I think I’ll still take the day off but instead of crying in bed all day I think I’ll do some of his favorite things. I’m not ready to incorporate others in this “party” yet but perhaps I will be next year. Thank you for writing this, it makes me hopeful that future birthdays might not be so hard.

  27. Clare said on June 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm ... #

    This made me weep for my parents, but gave me such an open window to feel free to celebrate them more and mourn them less. I’m not at the party stage yet, but will do things they would have enjoyed. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so glad for you.

  28. lisa said on January 1, 2012 at 11:23 am ... #

    That was beautiful. I just lost my dad 6 months ago and feel so much the same. I miss him daily and not sure how to start this new year without him. Wish I could stay in 2011 for awhile longer.

  29. Karen said on January 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of the love you shared with your father. I will try to remember this story to share with friends that are going through this great loss of their loved one in the future.

  30. sue said on February 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm ... #

    Hi, I appreciate your sharing of this story about your dad aand how you have decided to deall with his passing. I have faced 4 deaths in the past 5 yrs. The most painful was my 15 yr. old nephew who had muscular dystrophy. His mother died he was 2yrs. so I was essentially the mother he never had. It was very hard for my family to lose him. After that, it was my Dad & a yr. later my mom and 2 weeks ago, my 36 yr. old nephew from an unexpected brain aneuyrsm. He was the ringbearer at our wedding 32 yrs. ago.

    I was so inspired by your story that I had a bumper sticker made online that says “Celebrate more than we Mourn”. It has a dark blue background and wings on each end. It is in memory of all who have gone but it especially reminds me of my 15 yr. old nephew Brett. Do you have a problem with me printing and selling these stickers to the public and donating the profits to chairity?

    I think I would have to form a non-profit to be legitimate but I think it’s worth the effort. It’s a very special message and I think a lot of people would connect. Thanks again for sharing. It’s very nice.

  31. lindsey strese said on April 8, 2012 at 7:08 pm ... #

    What a touching story Elizabeth…thank you for sharing. Ironically it showed up on my facebook today which is the day before my husband Daves bray. Tomorrow will be a tough day but we will remember what you said and celebrate him.

  32. lindsey strese said on April 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm ... #

    Oops meant to say bday….

  33. Megan said on April 9, 2012 at 12:40 am ... #

    I just lost my dad yesterday (I’m 28). I was searching for guidance and found this site. Thank you for sharing…I will be sure to live and cherish every upcoming birthday – I know he’d love that. In fact I discovered a saved message today with him singing me Happy Birthday(I paid to get it into an MP3). I’m still not sure how to cope, grieve, handle any of this – but I thank you for being open about your experience(s).

  34. Karen said on April 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm ... #

    I lost my Dad on February 4, 2012. I live 440 miles from my family, but am thinking that I would like to have a toast to my Dad tomorrow night. He would’ve been 83. I was the youngest of five and so enjoyed “doting” on him the past few years. He was such a good man.

    Thanks for sharing your idea of celebrating his life. It was certainly a life well lived.

  35. Brandy said on May 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm ... #

    Your article was so beautiful and moved me to tears, which is exactly what I have been needing. June 2, 2012 will be the 11th anniversary of the day I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer. Somehow I have buried the feelings necessary for healing from the greatest loss in my life. I was 27 when he died and my life has taken a downward spiral since. For a long time I used alcohol as an anchor to numb the pain. June is swiftly approaching and, for me, it is absolute hell! Dad died June 2, then there is Father’s Day in June and June 24th was his birthday. I am just now starting the grieving/healing process that I have kept buried for the past 11 years. I do not want to face the sadness and the reality of it all, but if I do not then I know that I will never be free from it. So here I go… Gonna take it one step at a time. I am also going to celebrate his birthday this year instead of hiding in my house behind the sadness.

  36. Shanda said on January 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm ... #

    I lost my dad April 21, 2012 to a massive heart attack. He was only 52 years old, his birthday is coming up on Feb 2nd and I have been filled with lots of emotions and dont know how to deal with them and his one year anniversary is not to far behind. ready your story made me cry the first few seconds of reading it, it made me think of things me and my dad used to love to do cause I was daddy’s little girl.

  37. Iris N. said on September 7, 2013 at 11:42 am ... #

    This is beautiful!It’s my dad’s 64th birthday tomorrow Sept. 8, 2013 and he passed away last December 10, 2012 so this is his first birthday without him around. It still hurts but you’re right, celebrating his life helps in lessening the pain. This is so heartwarming. Thank you for sharing this.

  38. Cara said on February 4, 2014 at 3:41 am ... #

    .My 12 yr old daughter lost her daddy 4 mths ago very suddenly…as well as me losing a very good friend :( Anyhow…this was wonderfulTy so much for sharing) I’m tryin to figure out a great way to CELEBRATE BOTH MY DAUGHTER & HER DADDY BC SHE IS HER daDDIES FOREVER bday present! Except now he’s gone …today Feb.4 is the day!!!! Her first bday w/out him—even tho he will always b in our hearts.Any suggestions welcome Ty and have a truly blessed day.

  39. Prajakta Sarfare said on March 23, 2014 at 11:52 am ... #

    My Dad’s birthday is on 12th of March. I lost him last year. You are never ready for this, no matter what year or age. He died at the age of 60. But I agree with you, celebrating his memories is the best way to stay in touch with him :)

  40. Guru Pedapalli said on May 12, 2014 at 7:20 am ... #

    My Dad’s Birthday is on May 12th and it is today. I am Feeling more alone today though I am in crowd. It is his first Birthday after he has passed away due to ‘Hear Attack’. Still not yet recovered from the shock. Just learned to pretend in crowd. But, the wound inside is still in a bad condition. Having no hope of what to do today, finally saw this Webpage which gave a fresh thought of today. I decided to write a book ‘Daddy’ in which I will start speaking to him and ask him all numerous questions that he has left without Clearing me. Hoping he will answer me as soon as possible. Today, after reading this Webpage, I also wanna celebrate my papa Birthday. I will do it today…. not yet planned. But, I will cook something he likes alot …

  41. Anne Bruce said on June 23, 2014 at 12:50 pm ... #

    Dear Elizabeth,
    Thank you for the beautiful blog. My dad’s birthday is today June 23, 2014. He died on Jan. 5th of 2014. He was an amazing man and my brothers and mother and I want to celebrate his birthday today. After reading your lovely blog I feel that going out to dinner at his favorite restaurant, The Tavern, is the best way to celebrate. As you suggested we will use his birthday to share memories with those who knew him and those who did not. I think that it is easy to hide the tears and emotions because it is too painful to talk about my dad, you have helped me realize that the way to heal is to celebrate him as much as we can. Thank you again! Anne

  42. Bette said on July 30, 2014 at 2:45 pm ... #

    Thank you so much for your story. This August 2nd will be my husband’s birthday and the first time we won’t be together on his “day” because he passed away this past March. I’m still very much in the grieving/healing process but after 45-years together, I do not want to let his “day” pass without sharing it with him and honoring his memory….you’ve given me some wonderful ideas for doing that! Thank you so much.

  43. Kimberly said on November 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm ... #

    Thank you for posting this, Elizabeth. My Dad took his life 5 months ago, the week before Father’s Day, and his 66th birthday is coming up this weekend. I have been trying to fight the urge to curl up in the closet with a bottle of wine to mourn the loss of him on his birthday and Father’s Day, but you have inspired me to do the opposite of this and celebrate him. Thank you. Forever grateful for this post. You have no idea how much easier these, once thought horrible, days will be for me. Xoxo, Kimberly

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