Saying Happy Birthday to the Dead

Today is the birthday of my life mate/soul mate. I suppose I should say “was” the birthday — he’s been dead for more than three years. We never celebrated our birthdays, and for some reason, that seems sad to me now. I never told him “Happy birthday,” never made him a birthday cake, never gave him a birthday present.

He didn’t believe in continued life after death, and yet, when I went through his “effects” a couple months after he died, I found a quote he had saved: “Life is rather a state of embryo — a preparation for life. A man is not completely born until he has passed through death.”

cakeDid he believe those words? Did he want to believe them? Or was the quote something that caught his attention once upon a time, and he kept it whether he believed it or not? Still, I wonder — if he continues to exist somewhere, does he celebrate his death day as his birthday? Or does he still not believe in celebrating such rites of passage?

We were alike in our disinterest in such celebrations, but ever since he died, I’ve been making a point of celebrating life’s moments. So today I got the birthday cake I never got for him while he was alive. (And hey, if he doesn’t want any, then there’s more for me!) I will watch one of the movies he taped and remember when he used to sit by my side and watch with me. I will think of him, not as he would be today, 67 years old, or even as he was at the end, but as he was when we met — young, radiant, and be-coming.

I will give thanks that he shared his life with me.

And I will say those words I never spoke before, “Happy birthday, Jeff.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

5 Responses to “Saying Happy Birthday to the Dead”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Indeed, Happy Birthday to Jeff. I’m sure he’s enjoying himself in the next life and waiting for you to join him.

  2. Paula Kaye Says:

    That is so interesting that you never celebrated birthdays. We celebrate and now I will continue to celebrate after my husband passes….you just gave me that idea to do so!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Paula, Great comfort can be found in continuing to follow your shared traditions. Great comfort can also be found in creating new traditions just for yourself.

  3. Juliet Waldron Says:

    In some cultures, you’d serve a plate of that cake to him at a candle and flower decorated table while you ate. Across all belief systems there seem to be certain common impulses. My grandparents are buried in Ohio, and when I go out, I always go to their grave and pour a little Scotch out for them–they always had a single shot with water which they nursed through the evening. Probably equals the tequila and plates of rice and beans brought to the graves at Day of Dead Festival. There’s a sensation of family, of sharing and remembering that’s important to all us.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Even though I didn’t have candles or set a place at the table for him, it was a nice day. I like your idea of pouring a bit of scotch on your grandparents’ grave. Sounds like a good ritual.


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