Birthdays Are For The Living 

My Son Has Died – How Should I Celebrate His Birthday?

When someone has passed away, I usually think about acknowledging their yahrzeit, the date of the person’s passing. Knowing what to do on a yarhzeit is pretty straightforward for me – I’ll light a candle, give tzedakah, etc. For how we acknowledged Jacob’s first yahrzeit, you can read about it here: My Son’s First Yahrzeit. As a bereaved parent, in addition to my son’s yahrzeit, I also think about his birthday. It comes around every year. Despite Jacob no longer being here, his birthday is still a special time for me and I think about it a lot.

So I was in a quandary as to how I should acknowledge his birthday. Last year, I got the family together and we reminisced about Jacob. Happy Birthday Jacob talks about all the fun times we had with him. This year, I felt I wanted to do something different so I started thinking about the meaning of a birthday. 

What’s the Meaning Of A Birthday?

In modern, Western society, it is customary for me to be on the receiving end of my birthday, getting gifts, maybe a party, and receiving ‘happy birthday’ wishes from family and friends. I’ll admit, I do like all that. However, in Judaism, I’m taught that birthdays are a time to give and reflect. My ‘mazel’ (a positive spiritual influence) shines extra strong for me on my birthday. I might give extra tzedakah (charity) and blessings of good wishes to people. I might also say Psalms, pray a bit more, and study Torah. It is said that the Baal Shem Tov would celebrate his birthday each year and give blessings to those in need of a physical or spiritual healing. 

My birthday gives me a time to reflect on how I can improve myself in this world while I’m still in it. For Jacob, there’s nothing he can do. His job is done here. So what’s the point of his birthday now? 

I know that Jacob wants me to be happy, so I should try to be happy on his birthday. I sent flowers and ‘happy birthday’ balloons to his brothers and their families. Jacob’s nieces and nephew had fun with the balloons. I wanted everyone to acknowledge this special day. And I’m also thinking about how grateful I am to G-d for bringing him into this world and letting my husband and I raise him. I know that Jacob’s neshamah (soul) is very special and I feel privileged that G-d gave him to us. 

My Son’s Birthday Is Really For Me

So I figured out that Jacob’s birthday is really for my benefit. Although I can think about self improvement on my own birthday, it’s a special time for me to do this on his birthday as well. In memory of my son I can reflect on how I can be a happier person, a more giving person. I think  this is what Jacob would like me to do. And if I’m happy, he’s happy too.

Happy birthday son.

4 thoughts on “Birthdays Are For The Living 

  1. We were definitely thinking about Jacob yesterday. Ava loves his Hebrew birthday balloons! They are still mostly inflated too and decorating her room, it looks like a party and she loves it. They make her room look extra festive and happy, thank you for sending. We also had a special dessert for him

  2. I have a couple people for whom their yahrzeit falls at an “inopportune” time. My friend’s yahrzeit is my sister’s wedding day (https://jewishyoungprofessional.wordpress.com/2021/09/26/it-took-me-over-two-years-to-write-this-post-part-1/), and my grandfather’s yahrzeit is actually on my Hebrew calendar birthday (https://jewishyoungprofessional.wordpress.com/2021/11/15/a-turning-point-moment/). Partly for this reason, I tend to remember them more on their own birthdays as opposed to on their yahrzeits. I know this is not traditional and it’s made easier that, while I miss them dearly, the relationship is such that I’m not saying kaddish on their yahrzeits.

    Thinking of you ❤️

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