It’s birthday time again—for my daughter—who’s been gone physically for eight years now. Happy Heavenly Birthday to Marika, some people will say. I love it when she gets birthday greetings; it warms my heart even after all this time. Bereaved parents, other than getting their beloved deceased ones back, just want their children to be remembered. And often, on birthdays, they feel compelled to do or get something ‘for’ their beloved. So, as our big day approaches, in my resolution to keep Marika close and include her in my world, I am considering the various options for giving her a present.
Maybe you’re thinking, I’m taking this a little too far. But I did not invent this idea of gifting the dead, myself. Since the Neanderthals, people have been burying their dead with all kinds of offerings. And today, Cambodians, Mexicans, Chinese … people all over the world have holidays where they leave flowers as well as food and drink at the burial grounds of their ancestors and other deceased loved ones. Go visit any cemetery to see lovingly placed teddy bears, toy cars, … balloons. It is a positive coping strategy for mourners. The folks at The Conversation call it “restorative giving,” recognizing that giving gifts to the dead is one way to deal with the pain of loss while maintaining ties with a deceased loved one.
If there’s no grave, a griever who wants to gift the dead has to be more inventive. Some possibilities for making a meaningful and beneficial contribution of some sort that day: I could buy a gift Marika would have liked and, with the help of a local pastor, I could give it to some girl from a needy family. Or I might leave a pretty bracelet in Marika’s favorite park for some lucky person to discover. I could make a donation to a charitable organization in her name. Maybe I’ll plant a rosebush. Maybe I’ll make a small campfire in the yard and invite a couple of old friends over for s’mores. Or I could bake (or fetch) a cherry pie and do a ritual with peach tea by candlelight, reading a special poem aloud.
And, in addition, because Marika opened the doors to social media, technology, and photography to me, I will take this opportunity to Photoshop a new dress for the girl who, even dead, still changes my life every day.
What do you do to honor a deceased loved one on a birthday?