Sunday, April 1, I was asked to bring my fiction books to sell at a St. Baldrick’s Event to benefit children with cancer. A fellow high school classmate lost his daughter Brianna almost three years ago to a rare brain cancer when she was thirteen. April 1 would have been Brianna’s 16th birthday. Another high school classmate – the owner of a local pub – offered her location for the benefit. The turnout was incredible. For three hours, people had their heads shaved, enjoyed a meal (and/or a drink!), and perused raffle items. Despite the sadness that I know Brianna’s family experienced on that day, it was quite a festive event. As it should have been.


As it happens, Brianna’s mother was a childhood friend of my sister, Denise. On Wednesday, Denise would have turned 37. It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years since she died. Per my older sister Karen’s idea, I have decided only to acknowledge her birthday. Like Karen, I don’t feel the need to recall the day she died (despite the fact that her death is so engrained in us that our bodies refuse to let us forget it). I want to celebrate the life Denise lived as I go forward with my life, one that is filled with new beginnings.


Karen and I took cupcakes to the cemetery. We had hoped to light candles but a cold wind kept us from doing much other than quickly eating the birthday treats and getting back in the car.



Importantly, though, we took the time to remember the happiness that having Denise in our lives brought, just as Brianna’s family and friends had done.


Happy birthday, Brianna and Denise. You’re still with us.


Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at

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