Saying 'Happy Birthday' to a Friend Who Has Died

When Facebook sends you a message to wish someone well on their birthday, and that person has died, the first thing you do is cringe.

Then you look at their timeline. You see that it’s filled with people saying “happy birthday to an angel in Heaven” and “we miss you," and you go to another place.

It’s a place of bitter sweetness. It’s a place of appreciation for the person’s life. In the case of some rare individuals – such as Ann – who was born on Oct. 26, it’s a place where you can feel the love.

Finding and then losing friends

We had become online friends through our blogs about blood cancer. She died on Nov. 26, 2014. It wasn’t from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which she survived after two bone marrow transplants. Rather it was from a squamous cell cancer that invaded her fragile immune system.

At the time of her death, several people posted a link to her obituary. It read, in part, “Ann's story isn't the story of a battle with cancer. Ann's story is a love story.”1

On her timeline, you get a sense of how much she cared about people and how much they cared about her.

You get a sense of the everyday: a recipe for breakfast oatmeal cupcakes to go, a photo of a child wearing a purple hat that she knitted, adorable kitties, flowers from her garden, information on where to call about a lost dog.

A post on her blog links to a story about the time Ann met her bone marrow donor at Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches’ (A3M) annual fundraising gala. She and her husband, Chris, are beaming.2

You learn, “A3M is dedicated to finding bone marrow donors for Asian American patients with leukemia and other life-threatening blood diseases. A tissue match between donor and patient is needed for a successful transplant, and the best chance of finding a match is among family members or people of the same ethnic/racial background.”2

Remembering a loved one

On her birthday in 2015, a friend was missing her on what should be her 44th birthday.

“Ann survived cancer twice because of anonymous bone marrow donors before other complications hastened her death. In her honor, please register with Be the Match. You could really make someone's life.”

Friends chimed in, such as this one who said, “It’s important and so easy to join the registry now than it used to be. I'm registered.” (It just requires a tongue swab.)

After one of her transplants, Ann posted that she was at MD Anderson Cancer Center “every other freaking week,” dealing with graft vs. host disease of liver, lungs, eyes, skin, fascia and muscles.3

She sent kind words and hugs to a friend who was dealing with big medical bills like she was.

“Even when she was hurting, she cared so much for all of us,” the friend wrote.

The marvels and shortfalls of modern medicine

A friend thought of her when the New York Times reported a breakthrough in gene therapy, on Aug. 31, 2017.

“The medical community is still searching for a way to cure acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This is a big milestone and immediately made me think of you. Miss you, sweet friend,” he wrote.

The Times reported, “The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, a milestone that is expected to transform treatment in the coming years.”4

I thought about the many things that modern medicine can do, and about the things it cannot do. I also thought about how love and friendship know no bounds.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.