Missing My Brother on His Birthday and How I Will Celebrate in His Honor

February 23rd, 1993. It was him. He had arrived, and he was already so lovable. A mushy little baby. Dimples, oh my god, those dimples. You could see them from the second he came into this world. My relatives all crammed in the delivery room, each one asking me, “Are you ready to be a big sister Jesse?” I’d stand on my tippy toes and stick out my chest, attempting to look bigger and say, “I was born for this. I’m so excited. I love Jordan already!” My thick Long Island accent would project through the room, almost bouncing off the walls with joy.

February 23rd would continue to be a huge day in my life. It was my brother’s birthday! Though the spotlight wasn’t on me (however young Jesse might have thought it was), I was just happy to watch my little brother get celebrated.

Year after year, we’d see the same sort of routine roll around. We’d have a big celebration at a laser tag place, a gym, a bowling alley, things of that nature. The presents would pile in, the kids would be running around, and then there would be my brother, looking a little less than pleased. My brother didn’t love attention, and birthdays were the epitome of a spotlight on a human. If you knew Jordan, you knew what to expect. Especially during the singing of “Happy Birthday.” As everyone gathered around the cake to sing, like clockwork, Jordan would start hysterical crying. Just like that. Full-blown tears and a meltdown. “Keep singing, he’s okay,” my parents would probably shout to the party attendees.

That was Jordan. He was the guy that cried when people sang him a happy birthday.

But on February 23rd, 2013, I froze. It was a little over six months after his death, and I found myself lost. This day that had been so ingrained in my life now seemed to be filled with so many emotions, and I didn’t know what to do with them. Do I throw a party? Do I go about my day normally?

I started Googling things like “How to celebrate a dead person’s birthday,” and “How to honor someone’s legacy on their birthday” and  “How many calories are in a whole cake,” but I was coming up flat. Everyone else in my brother’s universe seemed to have a good plan in place. “We’ll go for burgers, he loved burgers.” That seemed like an easy win to me, so I followed suit. But after a few years, I stopped feeling connected to the burger thing.

Something I learned at Experience Camps was that birthdays and death dates, and really all days in between, should be what you want them to be and what makes you feel the most connected to the person.

So this year, I’m pivoting.

February 23rd, 2021. I’m going to celebrate in true Jordan fashion. Listen to the Happy Birthday song and cry my eyes out over a cake. Because sometimes you just need a good cry, and some years you’re living through a pandemic and are on the 9th year of Jordan-less Jordan birthdays. So just like Jordan did, I’ll let a normally happy occasion overwhelm me, and that’s okay. Some years birthdays are hard, and then some years they can feel like just another day. So, I’ll just continue to take the years as they come.

Truthfully, I may eat the whole cake, I may not, but hey, it’s all about what makes you feel the most connected to your person. Wish me luck.

P.S. I can’t believe I get to work at a place that allows me to share my feelings like this. Forever grateful for you, Experience Camps, a network of free grief camps for youth. If you know someone who would benefit from joining our community, have them check out www.experiencecamps.org.

Jesse Moss is the Community Engagement Manager at Experience Camps. After her brother Jordan died in 2012, she embarked on a journey to find a community of support. Her loss, coupled with her love of camp, inspired her to become an Experience Camps volunteer, and ultimately, to become a part of the staff.