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How to Say Happy Birthday After a Death in the Family

Gabrielle Applebury
woman embracing her daughter

It can feel strange to wish someone a "happy" birthday after a loved one has just passed away. There are ways to acknowledge your friend or family member's birthday in a sensitive way that shows them that you are thinking of them.

How to Wish Someone a Happy Birthday After a Death in the Family

It can feel difficult to know how to wish a bereaved person happy birthday. While everyone is different, it is always best to err on the more sensitive side after a loss. You can consider saying:

  • "I'm thinking of you today and sending you lots of birthday love."
  • "I know that this birthday may be a difficult one for you and I wanted to let you know that I was thinking of you today." You can follow up with, "Would you be okay with me dropping off a gift for you today or any other time this week?"
  • "I know how hard this past year has been for you." Then add, "I wanted to let you know that you are an amazing friend and deserve to be celebrated today." If you have a gift say, "I'd love to drop off something special for you if you're comfortable with that."
  • "Sending you love on your birthday." You may add, "I wish I could be with you today."
  • "Thinking of you on your birthday." End with, "I love you so much."
  • "I know this may be a difficult birthday for you and I want you to know that I'm here for you." Offer to meet up by saying, "I'd love to drop off some dinner or take you out to eat if you're up for it." It may be helpful to add, "You deserve a special moment today."

Wishing Someone Happy Birthday After a Specific Familial Loss

You may want to consider tailoring your birthday wishes depending on who in the family passed away. You can consider saying:

  • Birthday wishes after the death of a father: "I know you may be thinking of your father today. We all miss his amazing presence and are sending you bunches of love on your birthday."
  • Birthday wishes after the death of a mother: "I know today may be bringing up memories of your mom. I'm thinking of you on your birthday and am here for you if you need anything."
  • How to wish a widow or widower happy birthday: "While you may be thinking of your partner today, I want to tell you just how loved you are. I hope you experience some special moments on your birthday."
  • How to say happy birthday after the loss of a child: "I realize your birthday may be bringing up memories of your little one today. I know today may be painful, but I am here for you and love you so much."
  • Wishing someone a happy birthday after the death of a sibling: "I imagine you may be thinking of your (brother or sister) today and may be missing them a ton. I am here to support you. Let me know if it's okay to drop off something special for you today. I love you."

Pick the Right Time and Place

Birthdays can be a painful trigger for your loved one, so knowing when to say happy birthday is an important aspect of connecting with them thoughtfully. Consider wishing your loved one a happy birthday privately, instead of via social media. Those who don't know what happened may see what you wrote and subsequently flood their social media pages with "happy birthdays", which may feel triggering. You can send a card, text, gift, and/or give them a phone call instead of posting anything.

Send a Thoughtful Birthday Gift

If you aren't one for words, or would like to show your friend or family member that you're thinking of them on their birthday, you can consider sending them a gift. Pick something that:

  • You know they'll like
  • Is sensitive to their experience of loss
  • Is something that you know they'll appreciate
  • Is appropriate based on your level of closeness with them

If you aren't sure what to get them, you can offer to drop off a special treat or birthday meal for them if they are comfortable with you doing so.

Spend Time Together

Besides letting a loved one know that you are thinking of them on their birthday, if you have a very close relationship with them, ask if you can spend time with them. Be there for them emotionally when you speak with them. While they may not want to celebrate their birthday this year, your support may help them feel loved during this painful time.

woman embracing senior man

What Not to Do on a Birthday After the Loss of a Loved One

Everyone has their own expectations when it comes to birthdays, as well as grief. Try to keep in mind, that even if you have the best intentions, it's really important to allow your loved one to take the lead and decide how they want to spend their birthday after losing someone important to them. If they are still in the midst of grief, be there for them. If they want to celebrate in a small or big way, help them do so without judgment. Everyone processes grief differently and birthdays may or may not be triggering depending on the individual.

What to Say on the Birthday of a Deceased Loved One

On the birthday of a deceased loved one, you can reach out to their close friends and family to let them know you are thinking of the deceased individual, as well as of them on this day. You can consider saying:

  • "I know today is (insert deceased individual's name) 's birthday. I wanted to let you know that I am thinking of them especially on this day and am here for you if you'd like to talk."
  • "I know today may be a difficult day for you." Then you can add, "I love you and am here for anything you need."
  • "I am thinking of you and (insert deceased individual's name) today." Offer to help by saying, "Is there anything I can do for you today?"
  • "I know this is the first birthday since the loss of (insert deceased individual's name)." Suggest something like, "I wanted to know if I could bring over some food for you today."

How Do You Say Happy Birthday to Someone Who Just Lost a Loved One?

Be mindful of your loved one's experience with loss before you say something to them on their birthday. Letting a loved one know that you are thinking of them on their birthday can help them feel loved and supported on what might be a very difficult and triggering day for them.

How to Say Happy Birthday After a Death in the Family