How I Do Birthdays

So this is how his birthday went this year…

I woke up, and actually did not even remember it was his birthday for maybe an hour or two. After I’d dropped the kiddo off at school, I ran to the grocery store for a few things. And that’s when I remembered. Only it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn’t stop me in my tracks. It was actually more of a gentle, and even exciting feeling.

A lot of you know I lost my mom when I was a kid. My family didn’t really do grief all that well, and mostly our tactic was to just pretend feelings and dead people didn’t exist. So I grew up with the feeling that, when people die, you don’t get to celebrate them anymore. Sorry, it’s done. You aren’t allowed that anymore.

In my mid twenties, I started to question the way my family did grief though. I began desiring a connection to my mom. At some point, I decided that I was the only one who got to decide what my relationship with her was going to be. And I decided that just because she died, it did NOT mean that I don’t HAVE a mom. It did not mean that I no longer get to celebrate her or share my life with her. So I began creating rituals of my own to build that connection.

Little did I know I would be using those same sort of rituals to honor my fiance in just a few more short years from that time.

I am so grateful for that. It means that not only has my mom’s death informed the way I grieve and the way I honor everyone else who has died in my life, it means that she herself is still teaching me, guiding me, and helping me learn to navigate life well. Drew’s death has helped me learn even more about grief and life. And in the same way, he is still guiding me and helping me along my path.

So birthdays aren’t quite as hard for me anymore, because I decided I still get to celebrate. You can’t escape the sadness of wishing they were here of course. But, the day of their birth has actually become a really beautiful day in my world. A day that I no longer dread, but a day that I cherish.

On their birthdays, I focus myself on my love for them and on self love. I block out the entire day just for me. I might go get a pedicure, or treat myself to some donuts or go window shopping at a favorite store and buy a few little things just for me. I might buy a card for them, and write a letter in it to share with them all my love and all my gratitude. I usually buy some flowers and maybe a nice bottle of wine and a slice of cake to enjoy at the end of the night too. Movies or music they loved usually happen too. Throughout the whole day there is deep connection with my loved one and myself, which has - over time - turned these difficult days into days that are filled with meaning and beauty.

This past Thursday was no different. As I stood in the grocery store, remembering what day it was… a smile came over me instead of tears. I took my time picking out a few treats for myself. Some donuts, a small flowering plant, and a package of what turned out to be very delicious coconut cream coffee. I did a bit of work in the afternoon on my computer, and listened to one of Drew’s favorite bands as I worked. I spent an hour looking back through all the many joy-filled photos of my life with him… which brought both tears and smiles. I wrote a little note on Facebook sharing about the day, and sharing some memories of who he was for those who didn’t know him - along with a bunch of photos.

When Mike came home, he arrived with yellow roses in hand. Yellow because I am his “Yellow Rose of Texas”, and because he also knows that Drew used to get me yellow roses too. He grilled a delicious dinner and we spent hours laughing at some favorite funny shows. It was a beautiful day.

I felt special, and loved, and grateful. Instead of only feeling what wasn’t there, I was also so full of what was there. And still is. A new man who wants to make me feel special on the birthday of the other man I love. My own ability to love myself well and to find connection to my loved ones who have died. Friends and family who remember this day and check on me, or share stories of what Drew meant to them. With all of this, there is so much love left. There is so much celebration still happening, even 7 years after. For that, I am grateful.

Our loved ones still have so much to share with us, even after they have died. And we are the ones who get to decide how they will continue to influence our lives. Someone told me this early on in my grief, and it felt very freeing… this idea that I get to decide what my relationship will be with Drew. And I get to love and honor him for the rest of my days however I want to and it’s no one’s business but my own. I just love that. It doesn’t make the pain of grief go away, especially on milestone days or when grief is very fresh still, but it does give us a choice during a time when we may not feel like we have many choices.

We always get to choose how we keep loving them, and we always get to choose how they continue to be in our lives. I for one, will never again accept that my loved ones who are dead deserve any less of me than my loved ones who are living. In my heart, they are one and the same and always will be. 


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  • Jane Santa Hess
    commented 2019-04-15 04:01:32 -0700
    Sarah,
    I just love your post. You get to choose how to honor your loved ones, and at the same time, honor yourself through your love for them. The continuation of the loving relationships rather than the end is really hopeful to me. This is a wonderful way to celebrate! Thank you.
  • Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT
    commented 2019-04-01 10:01:02 -0700
    “We always get to choose how we keep loving them, and we always get to choose how they continue to be in our lives.” I love that, too, Sarah ~ and I love this post! Blessings to you, and thank you for these uplifting thoughts! ♥