Happy Birthday with Hershey Bars
On my dad’s October 8th birthday each year, I buy 100 Hershey bars and just hand them out randomly to whomever crosses my path that day. The first one always goes to the sales clerk wherever I happen to buy them, and then I move on: the post office, a department store, gas station, the restaurant where I buy lunch, the pharmacy while filling prescriptions. In the early days, I put one in each of my colleagues’ mailboxes at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and that tradition has followed me in workplaces I have occupied since then.
In telling the story of why I am sharing chocolate – my dad’s favorite: pure milk, no nuts – I have made friends with a postal clerk whose late mother died on my dad’s birthday and a saleswoman at Saks who came around the counter to give me a tearful hug. One waitress at lunch asked for a second one to take home to her mother as a token of her own appreciation. I’ve shared them with tennis teams, slipped them in neighbors’ mailboxes and handed them out while hiking the Inca Trail in Peru.
Even people who don’t like chocolate (yes, there are a few out there) graciously take the Hershey bar to share with someone they know who needs it – as an emotional boost and to remind them there can be a happy, upbeat way to keep a loved one’s personality paying it forward in a way that is not morbid or maudlin.
The first year I did this, I couldn’t articulate what I was doing without dissolving into raw tears. But now, well over a decade later, I love to tell the story, his story, behind the Hershey bars. I find it’s a cheerful way to keep George Soper’s memory alive, and I have connected with old friends and total strangers in new and unpredictable ways as they share their stories and losses with me. It often gives others a reason to pause and remember someone they’ve loved and lost, too.
People seem eager to find ways celebrate someone who’s not here except in spirit, and there are many creative ways to go about it. It doesn’t take away the sadness but it does keep their personality and sense of fun – or devotion – alive. Maybe you just need a little nudge. What did that person love to do or eat – or listen to or visit? On my mother’s birthday, we have her favorite – a Maine lobster – but it’s a private event. You’ve likely seen golf events or 5Ks held in someone’s memory, maybe even a fundraiser, coffee mugs, T-shirts or rear windshields. Here’s one I recently spotted:
Ernest J. Maddox
July 12, 1946-Jan. 8, 2007
I don’t know who he was or how he died, but the tribute got my attention as I was stuck in Atlanta traffic, and I won’t forget that name.
We all tend to remember dates of death and, annually, the sorrow resurfaces, but surely everyone who dies leaves a favorite something that can be turned into a ritual remembrance with a smile.
This year, on October 8 (my dad was born in 1922) I was in Charlotte, N.C. with my brother, Mike, and sister, Wendy, for our annual weekend away – from homes, spouses and children. We took particular pleasure in sharing Hersheys with Steve, our waiter at Rooster’s – in fact, with the manager and the crew cooking in plain view, too. At the grocery store checkout, a young clerk named Duncan seemed unusually touched by the candy. “Thanks for sharing this with me,” he said when I told him about the birthday tradition. “You’ve made my day.”
Do you have a favorite way to keep a memory alive? Let me hear from you!
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.