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Birthdays for angels: a way to talk about death with your child

February 17, 2014

Revised FINAL Angel Birthdays (cover)

The whole experience was just a softer way to deal with death

Erin Garay

author, Angel Birthdays

When you lose a loved one, one of the most difficult things to do is to relay the distressing message to a child. And seeing sadness in your child’s eyes – the kind you can’t take away – can make the heartbreak last even longer.

One mom’s journey to find a way

Trying to answer the complicated questions of life and death while grieving yourself can be difficult to master.

San Carlos mother of two Erin Garay knows this all too well.

She remembers thinking that with the emptiness felt after the death her mother, “you can’t cure it but you can help heal it.”

That theory grew into Garay’s mission. Create a positive method for her children to grieve and celebrate their grandmother.

In 2013, Garay published her first children’s book called Angel Birthdays, which is a fictional description of the experience.  The book, illustrated with colorful, eye-catching drawings, provides parents with active, gentle ways for families to grieve death through celebration.

Garay hopes that her book with help other parents who might struggle with how to talk to their children about death and teach them appropriate methods to grieve.

My mom is an angel

“When my mom passed, I was sad for me, but my heart was breaking further on the outside of my body because I had to watch my daughters grieve.”

Calling her mother an angel, Garay said she and her daughters took to annually celebrating her life with a birthday party.

Calling the event an Angel’s Birthday, Garay said her elementary-school aged daughters have developed some coping skills in the method they celebrate their deceased grandmother.

A life celebration

Celebrating an angel birthday every year gives your children a sense of control as they might be feeling like things are very “out of control” after the loss of their loved one.

“The whole experience was just a softer way to deal with death,” said Garay. “You heal through gratitude, love and celebration … there’s a lot we can do to reposition our hearts and minds.”

Special birthday ideas

Bake an Angel Birthday cake. Choose one of your loved ones’ favorite recipes, bake and frost it together.

Make memory boxes.  Have each person decorate their own memory box with pens, paint, pictures, glitter, stickers, etc and then choose an item that holds a special memory of your loved one. Place it in the box and bring it to your celebration to share with each other.

Buy some eco-friendly latex helium balloons and Sharpies. Write whatever is in your heart on that balloon. Tell them how much you love them. Release your balloons and watch together as your angel receives your message!

Finding gratitude in sorrow

Having lost both her parents, Garay said she has had to focus her attention on gratitude and an abundance of appreciation for all that each person brought into her life.

Garay remembers the loss of her father in 1999. Single and living in Southern California, the passing of her father was a heart-wrenching experience. When her mom passed years later in April 2008, she said it was an altogether different echelon of sorrow.

“Grieving when my mom died was completely different than when my dad died — I was single and had only myself to worry about,” said Garay.

“There’s a lot of gratitude in all of this – you just need to make sure you reposition it for children to see it,” Garay said.