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Remembering Loved Ones Forever: How to Celebrate a Deceased Family Member

When my mother died at age 60, I was 29 years old, married, and a mother myself with two young children. I was, for all intents and purposes, living independently as an adult who didn’t need her mother to raise her anymore. Even so, when my mother passed, it felt like my foundation crumbled. Nine years later, her passing still breaks my heart.

My mother was the type of person who celebrated birthdays for a whole month instead of just one day. We always went out for a meal and ordered a rich, chocolate-filled dessert. Sometimes we also saw a movie in the theater. I wish my kids had known her. I feel like, by not knowing her, some part of their history is lost, just like part of mine is lost by not knowing anything about my grandfather, who passed when my mother was only 14 years old.

My mother always seemed so sad and defeated when the subject of her dad came up, which made me feel like the topic was off-limits. Now, I’m angry that my mother made me feel like I couldn’t ask questions about my grandfather back then. I don’t want my kids to ever feel apprehensive about bringing up my mom or my dad. I want them to ask about my parents, and to feel like they have a picture of them in their minds. So now, each time May 4th comes around, I celebrate my mother’s birthday with my kids, even though it’s overwhelming to stare at a cake and sing Happy Birthday to the person I miss most in the world.

Remembering a Parent and Keeping Their Memory Alive

Other parentless parents around the country tell me they also honor and celebrate parents (and other relatives) who aren’t here with us anymore and they made some great suggestions for meaningful birthday celebration ideas you can share with your teens.

A friend of mine in Chicago celebrates her late parents’ birthdays by preparing a special meal for her children that celebrates their cultural heritage. Both her parents grew up in Germany, met as young adults in the Chicago area, and their German culture remained strongly present in her childhood. So she cooks a traditional German breakfast for her children so they can eat the same foods that she and her parents always shared.

A friend in Houston donates books to a local library in honor of a deceased parent. You can get your teens involved by describing your parents and their reading tastes and then ask your teen for suggestions about what books they think your mother or father might have enjoyed or would want to read.

Ways to Remember Loved Ones:

  • Celebrate your parent’s birthday with their friends and ask those friends to share stories with your children, some of which you may have never heard.
  • Encourage your teen to write a note to their grandparent, then attach the note to a kite string and watch as it dances in the wind up high in the sky.
  • Ask your teen to help you bake and decorate a cake for their grandparent. It’s messy, yummy, and celebratory all at the same time.

This year, for my mom’s birthday, I stood in the driveway with my husband and our kids. We lit paper lanterns and watched as they floated up into the air. Next year, for my mom’s birthday, we’ll do something different.

Whether our celebrations are simple or grand, the point of it all is to celebrate my mother’s spirit and remember her.  My mother holds a significant place in my heart, and I want my kids to create space in their hearts for her too.

Marcy Young is both a mother and a writer, and currently working to publish her manuscript Grateful While Grieving: A Collection of Stories About Parenting Through Love and Grief.

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