"It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.” – Ram Dass
I used to take the day off. I never knew how I would feel on her birthday. To prepare myself, I would just take the day off of work. I needed the padding, the cushion, the breathing room to be alone, to cry, to freak out, to lay in bed all day or do nothing at all.
The first few years following the loss of her, I spent her birthday in a pretty bad state. I was often weepy, angry, sad, lost. I remember vividly the year I wandered the streets of Chicago in some sort of dissociative fugue state. I believe I was attempting to walk to the El on Chicago Avenue and just got lost. I had walked that route every day for years and that one year, on May 16th, I just got lost in my own head. I ended up far off the path I wanted to be on utterly confused as to how I had gotten there. I had just been walking and walking deep in painful birthday thoughts frosted with massive grief.
About the time she was five, my mind began to clear a bit and I decided it would be healthier for me to celebrate her birthdays rather than mourn her. I couldn’t do that with her but I did do it without her. I used to take myself out to dinner, have a cake or some other sweet and have a little birthday party in my head for her. I would even sing happy birthday. Sometimes I would wander stores and view age appropriate gifts for her and wonder if she liked this, or that, or maybe something else. Unlike many moms I know, I never purchased anything, I would just pretend to. The stockpile of birthday gifts collected in closets of my heart, not my home.
For several years, I planted trees or flowers in whatever town or location I was living in at the time in honor of her. The planting of trees was symbolic for me. I used to go back each year to the trees I had planted and observe their growth from the previous year. I liked flowering trees. Weeping cherries, dogwood, cherry blossom. I suspect in some way it was my way to see her grow. Is she taller now? Are her limbs longer and stronger than they were the year before? Do those pretty flower blossoms resemble her beautiful face?
On several occasions I went back to the location of her conception. It’s a beautiful serene lake in upstate New York. I would walk the beach, kick the sand, sit on the shore and throw rocks in the water. Ripples would form and I would muse how the ripples in the water mirrored the loss of her. Grief felt far and wide for years, generations even.
The first birthday following our reunion, I went back to the hospital she was born in. I visited the maternity home I was locked in and I traced the paths the pregnant 17 yo me had walked. That was a powerful trip.
This year I went to work. I was not weepy. I was not in mourning. I did not plant flowers or trees. I did not have a birthday celebration on my own. I was, well, kind of okay this year. I don’t want to carry negativity and sadness in remembering her birth. Won’t she feel that in some way? I don’t want her to feel that her birthday is a terrible, horrible, pain inducing event. I want her and everyone else to celebrate the wonder of her. She is beautiful. She is brilliant. She is trying her best to manage the situation. All of that and more deserve celebration and recognition not sadness.
I wrote her a brief email in the morning. Even though I had already sent her gifts and she had already acknowledged them, I had to send her a greeting on her actual birthday. I also sent her a small video piece I created. The video was of her two brothers, my sons, singing her happy birthday and being silly. I did not expect a response but I did receive one. A short one but a good one.
In her response, she joked with me. She thanked me for “everything” and she commented on my own upcoming birthday. This blew me away. Shot me out of the emotional cage I feel locked in by her and brought me to my knees.
She remembered my upcoming birthday and she wished me a happy birthday.
Oh my gosh.
The power of words.
My daughter who has never wished me a Merry Christmas, never said Happy Mothers Day, Happy Easter, or Happy New Year. She has never exchanged simple social greetings and pleasantries with me.
Yesterday, two weeks before my birthday, she wished me a happy birthday.
Indeed it is a time for celebration.