How Birthdays Change After You Lose a Parent

Why are you not excited for your birthday? Is it because you don’t want to get older? It’s not that bad!” 

I’m not sure about you, but I get this question a lot. I am not one for big birthday celebrations (except for the occasional bar outing in my early twenties, but that’s something you have to do, right?!). In fact, I’m rarely even excited for it. And a lot of this has to do with the fact that I lost my father at just 18-years-old.

Ever since then, birthdays have become bittersweet to me for a few reasons. If you have lost a loved one, you may feel the same way. Birthdays tend to serve as a time of celebration but also as one of reminders and reflecting. And when you have lost someone close to you, you cannot help but think about them, too.

How Birthdays Change After You Lose a Parent

You feel their presence missing.

Especially if you were fortunate enough to have a good amount of birthday celebrations with your parent, it’s a bit of a shock when you celebrate your first one without them there.

You can feel their presence missing. You can feel the hole in your heart. The person who was always there to wish you a happy birthday, give you a special gift, write you that little saying in your card, is no longer there.

None of those physical items that meant so much to you are no longer there. You are reminded that you will never get another birthday card from dad again or that happy birthday singing from mom. Your birthday no longer feels complete.

It feels wrong celebrating without them.

It would not be your birthday if it was not for your parents bringing you into this world. How can you celebrate without them?

This thought has crossed my mind, and it may of crossed your as well. Of course you need to continue living your life when someone passes, but sometimes you feel a pang of guilt for celebrating. And if you are used to celebrating with them, how can you now celebrate with them?

It’s a reminder of everything that they’ve missed. 

Another year older means another year that they have not been there to see.

Did you turn the big 21 and can finally drink? That’s something they have missed. Did you turn 30 and purchase your first home? That’s something they missed as well. Turn 18 and graduate high school? Another thing your parent has missed.

A birthday is a time you cannot help but reflect on all of your accomplishments from the past year. However, this also reminds you of all the things you have done that your parents has now missed.

It’s a reminder of everything that they will miss. 

Similarly, when it comes to birthdays, you also tend to look forward to the next year and all of the things that will come with it.

If you are celebrating your 17th birthday, it means that next year you will finally be legal. If you are celebrating your birthday senior year of college, it means that in the upcoming months, you will be graduating.

Thinking about all of this can remind you that these are all large events you will be celebrating without your parent there. And especially if it is something big such as starting your first job, getting married, or having a child, this can be especially difficult.

It’s a reminder that they have been gone for another year. 

If this is not the first birthday you are celebrating without your parent, your birthday serves as another marker for another year without your parents.

It can be a sad reminder of how long it has been since you last saw your parent, last got to speak with them, and last got to be with them. Your birthday can serve as a reminder for how much time has actually past, and this is something most of us can’t help but get upset about.


Birthdays change after you lose a parent. They become a bit more bittersweet. For me personally, I know my father would want me happy and celebrating, and that’s what I try to do. But all of the above still comes into affect throughout the day or days leading up to my birthday. It is no longer a fully joyous occasion. It is one of remembrance and of cherishing all of the memories that I had with him.

Of course, everyone handles death differently. The above are some ways my birthday has changed since my father passed away. You may relate to some or all of them, but you may not. It’s a personal thing, but one that is not easy. But remember, it’s okay to smile and enjoy your day, even if it is just for a little bit.