End of Life Planning

1/1/2024 | By Amy Dickinson

Is it appropriate to host a birthday party for a dying friend, despite the tragedy of the situation? See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson says.

Dear Amy: 

My cousin and dear friend is not expected to live much longer, after a long battle with cancer.

My cousin and my husband share a birthday – coming up soon. In years past we have celebrated together, along with family.

little girl with balloons and a present celebrating a birthday party for a dying friend.

I’m wondering how to mark her upcoming birthday. I know birthday parties are supposed to be happy events and this wouldn’t be happy, but it feels wrong not to honor her in some way.

I’m wondering what you think we should do?

– Already Grieving

Dear Already: 

Depending on how your cousin is feeling, I think that you should plan a family celebration, honoring her life and demonstrating your joy in having her in the world. A gathering of loved ones – even in a hospital or hospice room – can be celebratory and “happy,” even if each person sheds a tear or two.

If your cousin is not able to handle an in-person gathering of too many people, you should share cards, letters, family and friend photos, flowers, favorite music and treats.

Your husband (her birthday twin) might offer a unique tribute, focused on their commonalities and remembering other shared celebrations over the years.

You say it feels wrong not to honor her in some way. I think you should honor her in every way that she is able to receive.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from hosting a party for a dying friend, to a forgetful loved one, and family gatherings. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson

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