Remembering and honoring my daughter. These are two important actions that I will take as long as I breathe. The first year after Leah’s death holds so many special dates. One special date was her birthday on Sept. 9, because it was her “Sweet 16”.
For girls, a Sweet 16 Birthday is a big deal – usually parties and celebrating happen to the max. It’s the day many girls go out and get their drivers licenses. Almost a right of passage.
To honor Leah, my sister and I, along with three of Leah’s friends (Katie, Sage and Erica), planned a Sweet 16 Memorial Birthday party for Leah.
We chose a theme Leah would love – a cake decorating contest. Leah loved the shows Cake Boss, DC Cupcakes and Cupcake Wars. Together, we shopped for all the trimmings to create cakes that would best represent Leah.
I worked with a local bakery, Konrad’s, to have plain, two tier, white cakes created that the friends could decorate.
So on a sunny, beautiful Saturday, 20 of Leah’s friends showed up to a tented backyard. We broke them into 4 teams to decorate the cakes and gave them an hour. The got to strategize on building a cake and selected decorating items to create their masterpieces. Could it be any more fun?
After a meal of Leah’s favorite foods (Italian beef, mac and cheese, watermelon), I asked the girls to write on a card either a favorite memory about Leah or something special about her.
We then sat in a circle around a fire pit and shared Leah stories. One by one the girls shared. We cried and laughed. It was a memory that we will always hold close.
It was priceless to hear stories about how Leah touched so many lives. I didn’t know my daughter could be so funny, gave her friends nick names, fell out a window, and helped friends who were hurting. Among many other things.
One deeply emotional moment was unplanned. Aren’t they always? The friends signed a balloon and each wrote a note on it to Leah. 20 huddled together. As they let the balloon go, we said “Happy Birthday.” The balloon steadily and slowly climbed to the clear, blue sky. We all stood a long time – looking up until we couldn’t see the tiny speak anymore. It’s as though time stood still. I want to believe Leah joyfully caught the balloon.
What a gift her friends gave me that day. It was such a memorable and precious time of honoring my daughter. Many friends surprised me with bouquets of flowers, candy and other gifts. I received a special angel wind chime that I cherish.
They were happy to be present in community as we shared our love for and pain of missing Leah.
We lived this quote: “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.” -Cicero
For me, I needed to hold this party for these dear friends whom my daughter loved. I couldn’t let their last memory of Leah be her funeral. They needed a safe place to celebrate and grieve together.
I love what my sister said to me:
“You are setting such a great example for the girls. That they don’t have to suck it up and move on! ”
I am learning it is unhealthy to avoid grief and minimize the impact our loved ones had on our lives. We need to be creative in community and honor those who we love.
I am blessed these friends touched my daughter so. I am committed to being there for them through our huge loss of precious Leah.