The actor's daughter Adelaide died in October 2019, just a few short days before her 4th birthday
Adelaide Cervantes
Miguel Cervantes and his daughter Adelaide
| Credit: Kelly Cervantes/Instagram

The last thing Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes wanted to do was face the one-year anniversary of the day his little girl Adelaide died in his arms.

“I don’t know how people can call it an anniversary, because frankly, it’s really just a terrible day,” Cervantes, 43, tells PEOPLE of his daughter, who passed away on Oct. 12, 2019, after spending nearly a lifetime battling a series of seizures.

“If I’m being honest, the day of her death doesn’t mean anything to me. I mean, I don’t need another day to feel sad," he says.

Instead, just a few short days later, Cervantes and his wife Kelly, 38, chose to celebrate what would have been Adelaide’s 5th birthday. Together, with the help of a close clan of family and friends, the couple mustered up the strength to smile and laugh and remember the little girl that not only changed their lives, but the lives of millions thanks to Kelly’s popular Inchstones blog.

“We had a party and yes, it even felt like a party,” Cervantes said of the birthday celebration that was held in remembrance of their late daughter at their New Jersey home on Oct. 17. “There were plenty of tears, but it wasn’t sad. This was a day of celebration.”

In separate Instagram posts, both Kelly and Miguel shared details of the day, which included everything from cupcakes to Frank Sinatra music playing in the background. There was also lots of symbolic touches, such as the planting of a rose bush in Adelaide’s honor and a beautiful stone placed on the ground where “Adelaide’s Garden” will soon stand out in the yard.

Adelaide Cervantes
Jackson and Adelaide Cervantes
| Credit: Courtesy Kelly Cervantes

The day was yet another marker in what has been a roller coaster year for the Cervantes family. Fans of the actor will recall that just four days after little Adelaide’s 2019 death, Cervantes got the call to return to Broadway to play the title role in Hamilton full-time starting March 3 after playing the same role in Chicago since September 2016.

“Here we thought we would be making our triumphant return to the east coast in 2020,” says Cervantes, who speaks with a sense of disbelief in his voice. “It was going to be an amazing story. We were 4 and we were going to come back as 3 and what was that going to mean and how was that going to help us further spread the message of Adelaide. We were ready to take a running leap into the rest of our life.”

The family did move from Chicago to New Jersey, only to have Cervantes play the role for a handful of show before the pandemic shuttered theaters around the world. Earlier this month, it was announced that Broadway would continue its shutdown through at least May of 2021.

“It wasn’t unexpected, but it still feels shocking in a way,” Cervantes says quietly. “It has been just one kick in the gut after another. And ever since then, we are just marinating in this idea of waiting. As every day goes by and with every new announcement, it’s hard to remain hopeful and positive. Granted, I’m very thankful for the Hamilton life we got to live that afforded me not to feel hopeless financially. We are in an okay position but not everyone can weather the storm and we certainly feel that suffering all around us. It’s hard to keep a smile on your face.”

He’s trying, but it can be so very difficult. Just one day after the latest Broadway shutdown announcement, Cervantes traveled to Manhattan for the first time since he left back in March.

“I felt like a visitor,” admits Cervantes. “It was the weirdest thing. That night, I walked into a local wine store and saw a Broadway friend I hadn’t seen in months. He simply asked how I was doing, and that’s all it took. We were both wearing masks, but I just instantly put my head on his back and I started crying. It was just another reminder of all of this grief and loss that we have all been through.”

Joining in that grief is Miguel and Kelly’s son Jackson, 8, who is still dealing with the death of the sister he loved.

“He has had to deal with so much adversity through his entire life, so yeah, grief is not lost on him,” says Cervantes, who has long worked alongside his family to raise awareness and funds for the Chicago-based Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE). “Just the other day, Jackson was in some sort of class discussion where he was asked about what superpower he wishes he had, and he said he wished he was able to bring people back to life and take away their sickness.

“But his smile and his laugh and his ability to adjust has been amazing. Throughout this entire process, it would have been so much harder if we didn’t have him laughing and smiling and helping us all keep our heads above water.”

Cervantes is doing exactly that, as he can currently be seen in the digital musical, A Killer Party: A Murder Mystery Musical. The nine-episode musical is available for purchase via

“It certainly helps to light a little bit of a fire in me that needs to keep burning,” he says. “It doesn’t quite fill the void, but it’s a good way to flex some muscles. There is still passion out there. There are still ways to sing and dance and act for others. I don’t know what our art form is going to look like going forward, so until then, we will sing and dance in our basements and hopefully people will respond and enjoy it. We are all just figuring trying to figure this out together.”

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.