Anniversaries, Birthdays and Special Days

Anniversaries, birthdays, religious festivals, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, family celebrations and other special days including Red Nose Day may be especially difficult. As the day draws closer and closer, you may dread how you and your children will react. You may be worried about how to handle all the feelings that these days might bring up.

This may be a confusing time for children. They may be afraid of what other people are going to expect of them. They may be afraid to ask the questions that are bothering them. They may feel guilty for looking forward to the holiday or they may just want to avoid the whole holiday time. Because you seem sad, they may think they should feel the same way and they may be worried when they don’t.

Family customs can be painful or a comfort around special holidays. Ask yourself what is best for you and your family. Younger children may draw comfort from family traditions. Older children may want to change everything because the memories are painful. Give each other choices. Whatever works for you and your family is right for you.

“These traditions are really important because they give some sense of normality to the kids.” (Jo)

“Ask them what they want to do on anniversaries and birthdays. We donate a book to the school library on Linda’s birthday, and we donate to Red Nose Grief and Loss on Ryan’s.” (Jo)

There is much less anxiety if you and your children know ahead of time what to expect. Start talking about your plans before the special day.

There are many things that you can do with your children:

  • You can make a collage of the child who died with pictures, written messages, a lock of hair …. anything special
  • Looking at family photos together can be an opportunity to talk about the child who has died, share memories and to recall the good times
  • Choose a personal belonging or buy something that represents the child to give to each of your surviving children. Explain why you chose that item. This will give your children something tangible to hold on to
  • Children can make a memory book of all the things they remember about their brother or sister. They can put in letters, drawings or photos
  • On birthdays and anniversaries you can have a cake complete with candles. Everyone can make a wish and blow out the candles together

One mother said:

“We lost twins at birth. When it was time for their first birthday, I asked my 5 year old if we should make a cake. He thought for a minute and then he answered, ‘We’d better make it angel food.’”

“We go out for the day on Jared’s birthday. We have a birthday cake, candles and balloons.” (Sharon)

  • Visit the cemetery and take flowers, notes or balloons

“On birthdays and anniversaries we have balloons and have a family tea. On the anniversary, we always take the day off and go to the cemetery.” (Sharon)

“Ian and I always take the day off on Molly’s birthday. Tim always has, too.” (Jill)

The festive season can be very hard, reminding you of who is missing. You may want to change some things, start some new traditions or keep some of the old ones. Do what you can to create a gentle feeling about the holidays.

“At Christmas Eve, we leave lollies in Jared’s stocking and Santa leaves a plant for the garden.” (Sharon)

“We still hang Lewis’ stocking at Christmas and have a special star for the tree.” (Kath)

Other ways of remembering that families have found helpful:

“Going to the Red Nose Memorial Service helps. Dan and Tim went for the first time this year. They were thrilled that they had done it for Molly.” (Jill)

“Hannah usually goes to the Memorial Service. Sometimes she cries. We always do something special after the Memorial Service.” (Jenny)

“Kyle doesn’t talk about Ryan, but he does come to the Memorial Service on Red Nose Day. He used to come to the Children’s Program at Red Nose Grief and Loss and that helped him.” (Jo)

“We do rituals for Kate like lighting candles.” (Belinda)

“We have a Fairy Garden for Molly. We have a tree out the front with fairy lights. The boys light candles underneath the tree.” (Jill)

Music can be helpful as a way of expressing emotions.

“It wasn’t until I played a song by Eric Bogle, called ‘Elizabeth’s Song,’ that she began talking to me about Jesse and asking me questions. I was so relieved when she started telling me what she remembered.” (Alex)

Special days can be opportunities to help each other through the grief all of you share. Sharing memories may bring tears, but these are healing and okay, especially on these special days.

This article was prepared using extracts from What about the Other Kids?1 The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.

Last reviewed: 17/4/24