April 30, 1969January 5, 2020

Jan Erik Birkeland (Erik) – born April 30, 1969 in Burien, WA; died January 5, 2020 in Seattle, WA. Erik spent the first three years of his life in the Seattle area before the young family moved back to Norway via Denmark to be closer to relatives. He spent his formative years in Norway, enjoying kick boxing and developing a love of sailing. Sailing was a passion that even when not on the water he thoroughly enjoyed reading boat design and ocean-going adventurers. He returned to Seattle to get a taste of the area where he had started. Deciding this was a pretty fantastic place, he completed his college studies in Norway and then moved to Seattle in 1995. Prior to beginning his graduate studies at Pacific Lutheran, Erik began working as an elevator operator at the Space Needle hoping to solidify his English skills. He remained at the ‘Needle’ while obtaining a Master of Business Administration degree, moving into the role of Attractions Manager and where he met his future wife who worked alongside him in the gift shops. Upon completing his degree, he relocated to the east coast to experience another part of America and began a career in Property Management. Erik excelled in this position and enjoyed interacting with all people – co-workers and tenants – from around the world. In January 2005, after having returned to Seattle to work on a property on Lower Queen Anne, he was diagnosed with cancer. Many surgeries/procedures/treatments had been performed over the years, but he never lost hope or wavered in his determination to beat this back as long as possible. He coined a phrase which became his mantra and he was able to live with cancer ‘only on Thursdays’. This gave him the ability to compartmentalize and ensure that the disease did not permeate every aspect of his life. He lived with great joy and never missed admiring the ‘small’ things. His family and friends meant the world to him. He is survived by his parents Lajla and Willy Birkeland, his sister Kristin Mi-Ai Birkeland, and his wife Sue.

A celebration of his life will be scheduled around his birthday – details to follow.

In leu of flowers, donations can be made to the 4Ocean Project ( where their focus is to remove plastic from the ocean which Erik loved so much.


No services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.



have a memory or condolence to add?

Rune Sørensen

January 15, 2020

Dear Sue and the Birkeland family
I would like to bring my condolences and sympathy to you in this time of grief. To me Jan Erik was a great friend who in his lively way of behaviour had a base in his life of being caring. When being together he would make us uplifted with his positivity. This brings up a memory when we were skiing through endless Norwegian woods and sleeping out in the cold moon lightened night. We never heard complaints from Jan Erik, only happy, encouraging words accompanied with smiles, even though he also felt the many miles in his legs.
We met again after some years in your beautiful wedding in the church in the middle of the Norwegian forest. It was great to meet you, Sue, and you two were a beautiful couple sharing the same values of being nice and loving to the people around you at any time.
I am sending you loving and compassionate thoughts.
Rune Sørensen


January 12, 2020

Sending my sympathies to Sue and family. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet Erik. This tribute is lovely and shares his character with us that never knew him. It seems he lived a courageous life without limits. May his spirit continue to live on in those that loved him. Godspeed.

Melanie Heminghaus

January 12, 2020

Dear Sue and the Birkeland family,
I’m so sorry for your loss. I had the pleasure of meeting Erik a few times when he visited Sue’s hometown and when we went to visit Seattle. Erik treated us like family and he was a wonderful light in the world. Sending loving thoughts at this difficult time.
Love, Melanie and Dave Heminghaus