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On Monday, it’s my son Charlie’s ninth birthday. We’re having a party with friends round and their children, lots of party food, a cake and even some cards and presents. Nothing odd there? It sounds like any normal party for any normal nine year old. The difference is that Charlie died when he was three months old, in October 2010.
We’ve always celebrated his birthday, every single year since he died. We’ve been to theme parks, adventure trails, had parties at home and treated it exactly as we would do as if he was here. You might think that weird. You might think we’re holding on to something that isn’t there and not letting go of the past. In truth, it helps us and our other children deal with our grief and our emotions.
Charlie is still very much part of our family, and by ignoring his birthday, we would be going against everything we’ve fought for. We’ve tried many ways to keep his memory alive with fundraisers and awareness campaigns. We include him in family photos, in our Christmas traditions and every way we can. His memory lives on with all our family and friends.
Everyone is different, and the way we deal with his birthday isn’t for everyone. Some might ignore it and bury it in the past. There’s nothing wrong with that either. It can be too painful to talk about, too raw to deal with. For us though, we throw ourselves wide open and shout from the rooftops that it’s Charlie’s birthday! We say to our friends and family, please celebrate with us, in whatever way you can.
For me, it could never be a date I could ignore. I gave birth to him. It’s the anniversary of the day I first laid eyes on that jet black hair and those beautiful lips. It’s the day I first breastfed him, our first cuddles, our skins touching. The first time I heard his voice and saw those chubby cheeks. It’s the anniversary of his arrival! I could never not celebrate that.
We’ve always wanted to make it a positive event for our other children, aged twelve and seven. Our seven-year-old was born after Charlie, so she never knew him, but gets very excited about his birthday. She loves to make him a card and sing to him. Whenever she draws pictures of our family, Charlie is always included in them. He’s usually a little higher than the rest of us to represent that he’s “somewhere in the sky.”
The way we do things is not a path everyone chooses who has lost a child but then each journey is different. Charlie is not a secret that we will tell our children when they are older. His pictures are all over our house, he is mentioned casually in many of our conversations. He’s just one of our three children. Not somebody to be hidden away.
His birthday will be a big event just like my other son and daughter’s birthdays. We will celebrate in just the same way. He’s as much a part of our life as he would be if he were alive. We’re not clinging on to something that isn’t there. We’re holding on to something precious, a person that we treasure and love.
I won’t pretend it’s easy, having a party for someone who isn’t with us anymore. It’s heartbreaking for me knowing I should have a real life nine-year-old instead of just memories of a three-month-old. I don’t know how I would get through it if it wasn’t for good friends who will rally round me that day. Each year I find the lead up to his birthday incredibly difficult and regularly break down with grief.
It’s another tough day to get through, but why not try and celebrate everything about him instead of just mourn him? I can do both at the same time.