Two Birthdays and a Funeral

This is what I’ve been up to these last couple weeks…


We normally have a joint birthday party for the boys but this year we decided to not have one.

In the past, we’ve always wound up spending the days leading up to their party saying a whole lot of, “Not right now, I have to clean the patio. Not right now, I have to bake the cake. Not right now, I have to do a billion things!” The party is the priority and focus, not them. So this year we’ll keep it simple. No party. Just our family focusing on the birthday boy. The kids are on board with the idea (and excited about picking the dinner and deciding what to do) but I’m a little concerned that they’ll be disappointed. We’ve always done a party. With piñatas and bouncers and everything.

The night before Crappy Boy’s birthday arrives. We leisurely bake and decorate a cake together. We string up some decorations and balloons. (Banner decorations were from Minted by the way, which is the same place I’ll be ordering holiday photo cards from if I can actually remember to, um, do it this year. Not that you can tell how awesome they were from my drawings, but just look at these straws! Swoon.) 

The morning of his birthday arrives. We have a lazy breakfast. He wants to go to the arcade. We go. He wants to go back home to open presents. We do. We say ‘yes’ as often as possible. We play with him. We listen to him. We focus on him.

And then he sums up how he feels:


And it was the best birthday he has ever had.

Before we know it, Crappy Baby’s birthday arrives. Same story. No party (although we have extra family in town for the funeral which I’m getting to) and we keep it simple.

He sits down to eat his dinner of choice (fries and sushi and sparkling apple cider) and he too sums up how he feels:


Course that is what he always says when he eats sushi or fries. But still.

Two birthdays (we also had our wedding anniversary, but who is counting) back to back followed by a funeral the following week. And now for the funeral story…

Uncle Ric was greatly loved by the whole family and especially by Crappy Boy and Crappy Baby. He was creative, an artist and a photographer and he played drums in jazz bands. Your classic “cool uncle” type of guy and the kids adored him.

Although he was wiry and thin, he could eat more than anyone else I’ve ever known. In fact, one time at an Indian restaurant everyone asked the waitress for recommendations and someone asked her “What is the best thing on the menu?” but when it was his turn to order he simply asked, “What is the biggest thing on the menu?” And he ordered it. He is the only person I’ve ever known to order based on size alone.

He was one of those people who didn’t say a lot but when he did it was absolutely hilarious or fascinating or insightful. He was fun. He was interesting. He always made us laugh. He was at every single one of their birthday parties. In fact, of all the family members who Crappy Boy sent cards to, Uncle Ric was the only one who replied and sent cards back each time.

And now he is gone.

Never in a million years would we have predicted that it would be him we were saying goodbye to next. But that is how it goes I suppose.

The funeral day arrives. Given our prior funeral experience, we talk at length about how important it will be to stay quiet. What a funeral is for. How it will be a lot of people talking and remembering and being sad and that’s okay.

Crappy Boy makes one last card for him and we bring it and they display it at the front. I can’t look at it or I start to cry.

The service starts. The kids are sitting in the second row. All the talking about staying quiet must have worked because they are quiet! Neither kid seems to be listening to what family and friends are saying. But that’s okay. Although they are moving from me to the chair to the floor and back again, they are being quiet.

It is near the end and two marines enter to do the military flag presentation. Someone starts playing Taps on the trumpet. The boys are suddenly entranced by the slow motion, almost robotic unfolding and the folding of the flag.


The music ends but the folding continues. Everyone is still and there is complete silence other than sniffles from everyone crying. I’ve never seen the flag presentation at a funeral before. It is very powerful and beautiful and sad.

Tears are streaming down my cheeks and Crappy Baby turns to look at me with a pained look on his face:


Is he noticing all the people crying? Is he concerned to see me crying?

Then he says:


Everyone who hears him laughs. It really is the perfect ending.

Especially for the man who ordered food based on size.

We’ll miss you, Uncle Ric.  

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92 Responses to Two Birthdays and a Funeral

  1. Carrie W says:

    “Never in a million years would we have predicted that it would be him we were saying goodbye to next. But that is how it goes I suppose.”

    I’m in tears. So sorry for your loss and glad that the boys had good birthdays.

    • Heather says:

      Same here. When I lost my cousin last year this is just how it felt. Such a shock and makes everything feel so fragile.

      • Lynette says:

        My bro Nate was the “cool Uncle.” He made an unauthorised departure as well. Praise God that our kids were blessed with that “cool Uncle.” <3

  2. Sarah says:

    The part about Crappy Boy making him one last card made me cry. So sorry for your loss, he sounds like he was a great person.

  3. Mary says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss!

  4. Cheryle says:

    Oh, beautiful! And I’m so glad their birthdays were just for them. We used to give our boys the “day off” from chores on their birthdays; it was a Big Deal.

    Children at funerals are so appropriate, too. They are the future, even as we say goodbye to the past. And Crappy Baby’s comment was just a reminder: life in the midst of death. RIP, Uncle Ric!

    • Janelle says:

      ^^^^ this! Yes. Thank you, Cheryle, for speaking so eloquently my heart too. 🙂

      I love your family, crappy mama. The happy, the funny, the sad, the insightful. And I am thankful I get to read your shared life. You’re awesome. I am humbled by your revealings. 🙂

  5. laura says:

    I was wondering where you’ve been and now I feel like a big meanie for whining about not seeing an update from you on twitter the other day. Celebrating birthdays and going to a funeral is such a good reminder that life is precious and fleeting. Thank you.

  6. Caz says:

    Beautiful post. Sorry for your loss. I think there’s something in my eyes…

  7. Karen says:

    This was such a beautiful peek into your life, both the happy and the sad. Please don’t ever stop writing, but I say this knowing that you have a real life so no pressure intended. I’m sorry for your loss.

  8. Angela says:

    I love the ending…kids really do say that perfect things!

    Sorry for your loss. 🙁

  9. Tina S. says:

    Leave it to a child to say the most perfect thing to lighten the mood and remind everyone to celebrate life. 🙂 I loved this.

  10. Sophie Wolford says:

    I am so sorry for your loss….we recently experienced a sudden death in the family as well and it is so hard. Love and light to you and your family!

    On a happier note, I also like Sushi and fries on my birthday.

  11. Angela says:

    Go Crappy Baby and your sushi! That cracks me up. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m so glad that you involved your kids and very sweet that Crappy Boy made him a card as his way to say goodbye. Brought tears to my eyes.

  12. Gaylin says:

    Perfect birthdays! I am sure that them feeling special and loved will stay for a long time.

    Very sad that a funeral followed. Take care.

  13. Mary says:

    What a happy and sad combo. Happy birthday to your boys and I’m so sorry for your loss. Sounds like a rollercoaster of a month for you.

  14. Heather L says:

    I am so sorry for you and your families loss. When you said “Never in a million years would we have predicted that it would be him we were saying goodbye to next.”, it made me tear up. My brother passed away in May and that is exactly how I felt. It’s so hard to say goodbye, but especially when you have to say goodbye to such a great person. Hugs to you.

  15. Christina says:

    I’m very sorry, hugs all around.

    I’m loving those straws you linked to, I’m going to order some but not for a birthday, just to have around.

  16. brenda Lw says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. But what a great tribute from Crappy Baby!

  17. Erica says:

    So so so sorry for your loss. It is so hard to deal with sometimes. I don’t think that’s something we can ever get used to, even though we know it’s inevitable. One of the hardest things for me at a funeral is the joy I feel at seeing people I don’t see very often because it’s immediately followed by guilt for feeling happy. Loved the perfect ending 🙂

  18. Heather says:

    What a perfect way that Crappy Baby honored him. So sweet.

  19. amanda says:

    Kids are simple little creatures. We put so much pressure on ourselves for the biggest best party every time and what they really truly love is simplicity. Your babies funeral reaction was awesome. When my MIL passed my girls were a lot like our babies. Up down up down. Some kind of whispers and just generally good but so oblivious to the truth and pain we as adults feel. I’m pretty sure we had a few of those make everyone snicker moments too but that was such a blurry time for me I cannot remember. Love it. So sorry for your loss. I’m sure he will be greatly missed.

  20. Jamie says:

    The last little bit set me off too. I’m sorry for your loss.

  21. Kamron says:

    SO sad and sweet. He sounds like he was a great uncle.

  22. Tori says:

    This is one of my favorite posts. Just beautiful. I was holding it together until the frame where Crappy Baby said,”Mama?” Perfect ending, too.

  23. Kate says:

    I am very sorry for your loss. As i sit here on the eve of my daughters second birthday party i realize that a party just isnt necessary. Glad to hear your no party party went great

  24. Nikki H says:

    Just a lovely post. I’m so sorry for your loss. Happy Anniversary and Happy Birthdays.

  25. aw…kids are awesome…we Byzantine-types say ‘Eternal memory’ when someone dies- and that is what I wish for your Uncle Ric

  26. Rachael h. says:

    On our two year olds first birthday I threw a huge birthday party and invited 50 people. I planned everything and worked like crazy and it was great. When he turned 2 I didn’t have a party at all instead his dad and I took him to a water park. It was great. He probably loved both but the one with the most intimate moments is definetely the 2nd. I gave him what he really wanted which was undivided attention.
    My prayers are with you.

  27. Mercedes says:

    Regarding kids birthdays; I too simply devote the day to the birthday boy. When my firstborn turned one, we had a giant family party. Long story short, I found myself overwhelmed and crying in the middle of Safeway, thinking, ” what the hell am I doing?!” We feed the kids their favorite foods all day long and have a simple celebration of just us. Much better!

    • Krystal says:

      Same at our home! I did a huge party for my oldest when he turned one and vowed never to do it again! Too much stress for nothing. We just celebrate our kids by doing their favourite things and eating whatever they want.

    • Ali says:

      Same here. No big parties till high school graduation!

  28. Lindsay says:

    Bawling. So so sorry for you guys. What a sweet post.

  29. Marie says:

    So sorry for your loss.

  30. Y says:

    So sorry for your loss 🙁

  31. neal says:

    First, all the good thoughts to you and those who have lost.

    Also, it’s kind of amazing how in moments of sadness kids can rip that sadness right out of the ground and show everyone that mixed in with the roots are seeds of happiness, and that it won’t be long before those seeds sprout up to mix with the sadness, turning just plain bitter into bittersweet.

    At the same time, sometimes they find a way to rain on a really happy moment, like if their sibling looks at them wrong or if their shirt tag suddenly starts bothering them. But it’s the uprooting of those sad moments that is really kind of amazing and makes up for everything else.

  32. alan says:

    Dammit, now I’m crying! This was a lovely post.

  33. Krystal says:

    You’ve made me laugh, and now you’ve made me cry. This was a very beautiful, heartfelt story. Thank you for sharing it. Sounds like Uncle Ric was a very wonderful man, and I can imagine that he will be terribly missed. My condolences to you and your family.

  34. CKelly says:

    I’m so sorry for you loss. I suspect he was probably laughing with the rest of the friends and family! I have never been to a funeral where the kids haven’t been able to lighten the moment and remind people of the way that life continues.

  35. I am so sorry for your loss.

  36. That was amazing. Love how it all tied together. In a way, all about focusing, truly focusing on people…like Cool Uncle Ric did with the boys. That is all people really want. To be noticed and valued. Well written.

  37. Mary says:

    I lost my mom earlier this year and she had full military honors. It is quite a powerful ceremony to witness. I don’t think there was a dry eye when they handed the folded flag to my father.

    Kids are amazingly intuitive and somehow know the right say or do at times when you least expect it. The morning after my mom passed, my four old daughter came to my room and gave me my old stuffed dog that I have had since I was a baby and told me “here’s your Teddy” and gave me a big hug. She didn’t know what happened yet but just knew her mama needed a Teddy and a hug.

    I am sorry for your loss. He sounded like an amazing person.

    On a more positive note, I definitely want fries and sushi for my birthday dinner!

  38. Brittany Jimenez says:

    This is one of the most moving blogs I’ve read from you. So heart-warming. He’ll be missed but never forgotten, I’m sure. Seems like your uncle would have enjoyed that Crappy Baby’s comment. 😀

  39. Holly says:

    Like everyone else I am sorry for your loss. I busted up laughing with the “I’m hungry” line. I just feel bad that the kids won’t have anyone respond back to the cards they send out.

  40. Ali says:

    The ending of that story was wonderful. Thank you for sharing that heartfelt family moment. My condolences to you all.

  41. Okay, I’m not going to lie. You made my eyes get a little shiny. I’m so sorry about Uncle Ric. He reminds me of a couple of my own uncles. I love that Crappy Baby “wore” a black diaper, and I love that Crappy Boy made one last card. Of course, it doesn’t HAVE to be the last one…

  42. sara says:

    I read you…found you from Something Clever 2.0 but I’ve never commented. So sorry for your loss. It’s funny how kids save us from our sadness by making us laugh. My nephew, 2 at the time, almost fell into his great-grandpa’s grave as he over excitedly followed the adults as they each took one flower to drop on the casket as they left the burial. So of course, we all stood by as the dutiful grandchildren and he ran back and forth tossing in flower after flower….destroying the arrangements and almost falling in but everyone loved him. It reminds us why we are here I guess.

  43. Shona says:


  44. Kathy says:

    Simple birthdays are the best. Last week for my son’s birthday we decided to have a bonfire (no one goes into my house so it doesn’t have to be clean) AND at my son’s request it was a potluck! I picked up a birthday cake from the store and lit a fire in my back yard and THAT WAS ALL! Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to come, but our 5 acre yard was packed! Not only did the guest supply all the food but the kiddo made out like a bandit! Everyone seemed to love it and raved about what a good idea it was and my son got to eat lots of food that I would never make.

  45. Esther says:

    I am so sorry for your loss!

    Well, when my daughter was three years old I started doing the “make yourself go crazy” huge themed birthday parties. She absolutely loved them. However, when I started asking my son what he wanted his third birthday party to be, he simply said “I want a mommy day”. And I was sold! It was so perfect, we did whatever his little heart desired. Well, I proudly say we have not had a birthday party since. The “Mommy Day” is now a tradition! A tradition that melts my heart to know they cherish the time with me as much I do them.

  46. Laura says:

    In even the saddest of moments there is still the light–and those light hearted, child focused innocence moments are the sweetest of all. Uncle Ric won me over with ALWAYS responding to mail–what a sweetie he must have been. So sorry for your loss.

  47. Crystal says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your families loss. Uncle Ric seemed like a great guy! I love how you managed to make me smile, laugh, and tear up all in one blog post. Your drawing of the Marine.. actually not so crappy 😉

  48. Siobhan says:

    Gosh, that was really moving, I teared up a bit. Then the end made me laugh. Sorry for your loss but what a great post 🙂

  49. Suzette says:

    What a sweet & touching post. I teared up & felt the loss of your son’s writing companion! It was thr perfect ‘bookend’ story though with baby saying he was hungry. You have a talent for humor & timing in writing.
    I got your book out of the library (sorry, I’m a SAHM & poor) and took it on a family vacation/reunion … Anyway – I finished your book in a day & laughed till I cried a few times (I have a 2 & 1 year old). By the time vacation was done 4 more family members read my favorite stories (penis pizza) … And you have no idea what you started! We had a blast telling funny kid stories. Your book started that. Best vacation in years!!!
    Again, I am sorry of your loss & pray that God heals your pain with lovely memories of ‘Uncle Ric’

  50. Kimberly says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my brother last year. It is so so hard. Much much love to you and your family.

  51. Cristina says:

    Life has moments that pierce your heart. Thank you for sharing your joy and grief.

  52. Carli says:

    This is one of my favourite posts ever. Thank you for sharing with all of us. I am so sorry for your loss.

  53. Amy says:

    Beautiful & really hit home for me as today I’m taking my children to the wedding of my cousin who’s father,my uncle Mike, died in his sleep totally unexpectedly 3 weeks ago to the day. The children were the single bright spot in that otherwise heart wrenching moment with the family and I can only hope today that they remind my cousin his life will go on and he will experience joy again, not only at his own wedding, but when he too brings life into this world. Great job taking those kids to a funeral -we must teach them death is just another part of life & sadness is ok.

  54. Kathy says:

    So sorry for your loss. Crappy Boy’s final card was a wonderful idea. *tearssniffle-stupidallergies-what’swrongwithme* And Crappy Baby’s comment reminds us that life goes on . . . and that it’s okay to laugh at funerals. 🙂

    Also, the best birthdays really are with just family.

  55. Shelley says:

    Beautiful! I laughed, I cried, I remembered when my kids were little and did things like your “crappy” kids do.

    Joy and sadness, each one makes us appreciate the other. So too, youth and love of life makes us appreciate the inevitability of loss.

    G-d bless your boys and dear Uncle Ric, who was surely smiling during the whole moving ceremony and certainly gave a big belly laugh at “I’m hungry”!

    Peace and comfort to the whole family.

  56. Lynsey says:

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of such a beloved family member. Your kids sound amazing and I’m sure he would’ve appreciated the “I’m hungry” comment. I love your approach to birthdays and will be adopting the same attitude for my little girl this year.

  57. Samantha B says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss (((((hugs))))).

  58. Donna Arthurs says:

    My husband’s funeral was yesterday. This morning I was looking at Facebook trying to cheer myself up when I saw you had a new post. It gave me a few moments of happiness that I have been searching for, and got me crying good when you spoke about your family’s loss. I have been unable to cry much, I am still just numb, but it made me feel good to just flat out cry for a few minutes. Bless your boys. The only thing that kept me going yesterday was my 6 year old grandson who kept hugging me and saying, “Nanny I am so sad about Poppop, Nanny, we will be here for you”, If you need anything call me anytime day or night (obviously repeating what his mama, my daughter has been saying). The best was when he announced that he was hungry and he was glad we were having a party for Poppop because mommy got all Poppop’s favorite things to eat, which just so happen to be my grandson’s favorites. Hug your boys tight today, I am sure they helped people at the funeral they attended. Thanks for the good cry. I needed it.

  59. AggieDaner says:

    I’m a long time reader who hasn’t commented before, but I wanted to let you know that your beautiful tribute to Uncle Ric moved me a great deal. I genuinely believe that the memories and feelings we leave behind when we go are the most significant tributes to our existence, and it is clear from your words that he was a wonderful man who’s presence in this world made it a better place to be. Even without knowing him, we were all lucky to have him here. I hope you and your family can find peace in this time of profound sadness.

  60. Dawn says:

    This post captures the beauty, joy, and pain of love and family. I’m so sorry about your loss.

  61. Leanna says:

    So sorry for you loss.

  62. Sara says:

    This is one of your all time greatest posts.

  63. mrs.p says:

    In our family our Uncle Ric was called Uncle Doug. He is greatly missed. Your post made me remember him and smile. Thank-you.

  64. Risa says:

    Beautiful post. I’d comment on which parts I love but it’s pretty much all of them. So sorry for your loss!

  65. Hannah says:

    And this’ll be the second time crappypictures has ever brought me to tears. (The first one was “Isn’t it beautiful?” by Crappy Baby) 🙂 I’m so sorry for your loss. I, too, started misting up at the part where Crappy Boy made Uncle Ric one last card. 🙁 Hugs mama. (PS, your birthday idea is fantastic. My crappy boy turns 4 next month and I’m totally copying. I always feel like the party is more just for me anyway, he’s always totally overwhelmed.)

  66. June says:

    Sounds like he was a fab uncle. So sorry for your loss.

    Happy birthday to the boys, and happy anniversary, too.

  67. Jennifer says:

    Amber you have such a beautiful way with words, both humorous and emotional at the same time. And you seem to have cultivated an incredible audience of genuine, caring people. My thoughts go out to you (and all who posted about their respective losses) in your time of mourning. Who knew when you started this blog just a few years ago that you’d be so inspirational and actually change the canvas of helping us rember what matters most. I, too will change how we celebrate our birthdays. My grandfather had a stroke last month and it has really been a challenging adjustment as he’s our beloved patriarch. I sold our TV four weeks ago and it’s been the best month we’ve ever had as a family. Back to basics. Thank you for your beautiful post. Your writing really reminds us what is important. Family and love and children.

  68. Adrianna S says:

    Sorry for your families loss. Sounds like the boys truly enjoyed their birthday.

  69. Rosie says:

    If only the other mommy bloggers had so much insight and talent as you do!

  70. It sounds weird, but I do love having children attend funerals. They make everyone feel better. We buried my father just a month ago, and it was so comforting that all my kids (including the 2 grown ones) were there.

  71. Jade says:

    My deepest sympathies for your loss, Amber. Sounds like Uncle Ric was a wonderful person. After 3 big birthday parties, we decided to do a small family dinner last year instead. It was wonderful! We did the same thing this year, and once again it was wonderful. Kids don’t need expensive things like bouncy houses and pinatas to be happy. Time and attention really are the best gifts. Wish I’d figured that out 2 years sooner! 🙂

  72. Amber says:

    In one of my first classesa precocious 3 year old came back from a family trip. He was telling me about everything and then said, ” my grandma died. It sucked.” That about sums it up.

  73. Jill says:

    Crap, Crap, Crap – I’m now crying at work! So very sorry for your lose, he sounded like a wonderful man. But I do love how kids can bring you back to center and without even trying.

    For five years, we did a big party at our house but this year, I decided to let someone else do the work. We celebrated our DD birthday very similar to how you did and then last night (yes, on a Sunday night – please tell me why again!) we had a party at a local hotel that has a small indoor waterpark (this is Wisconsin after all in October). It was GREAT! The kids had fun, the parents had fun, there was pizza and cake and the best part of all was I didn’t have to clean a thing! The whole party was best summed up when one of my friend’s kids spilled lemonade on the table and said, “hey, do you need to worry about this?” and I replied, “No, not my house!”

  74. Kari says:

    Yes, this year I felt terrible about taking a day off work to get our house ready and decorations up for our daughter’s 2nd birthday party. I told myself I wouldn’t go over-board, but I did. I wanted her to have awesome handmade decorations (stupid pinterest) and for her to love seeing Minnie Mouse everywhere. She really seemed to love the decorations, but I felt awful that whole weekend not giving her the attention she obviously wanted from me. 🙁 I love what you did for the boys this year.

  75. tara says:

    I’m so so sorry for your loss. Uncle Ric seems amazing, and the fact that he ordered based on size makes him sound like an even more exciting dinner date friend!

    Happy birthday to the two boys, happy anniversary to you and Crappy Papa and happy life to Uncle Ric!

  76. Patti says:

    Beautiful stories! Thank you for sharing! ^_^

  77. Trisha_K says:

    So sorry for your loss, Amber!

  78. Nickol says:

    I remember telling my favorite uncle what my name as backwards when I was about six. I told him with great enthusiasm. He called me that forever. It was horrible but I always knew he loved me. He passed away when I was 15. I’m sorry for your loss. Favorite uncles are irreplaceable.

  79. Stephanie says:

    This story made me all teared up and bawling!

  80. Natalie says:

    tears are streaming down my face. I am so sorry for your loss! I hope Uncle Ric’s love of large quantities of food lives on, in the best sort of way, through your son!

  81. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. May the memories of Uncle Ric bring you more comfort as time passes.

  82. CWil says:

    Reminds me of the day my other half left for deployment, we had a family lunch at the park, then drove to the airport to say our goodbyes. After he boarded the plane with all of the other soldiers and we watched him take off (all of us bawling), my sweet little 5 year-old turned to me and said “mommy… *sob* … can we go back to the park?”