How do you celebrate a birthday for a person that you can no longer see?
There will be no carefully curated list of people who will share in your birthday. No beautiful invitations to send to friends and family. But there are those that will accept the unwritten invitation to share in your birthday and remember you. Those that miss you too. Those that grieve with us.
There will be no balloons and streamers hung. No theme will define your day. But I have made this hanger. It reminds me of you and it decorates your brother’s room.
You won’t unwrap a train set, or open your eyes to find your first bicycle. You won’t be spoiled by those that love you with earthly gifts. But I made you this prayer flag, as I have done in the past and will do each year. It is my gift to you and yours to me.
I won’t sing you happy birthday. There will be no chorus of hip, hip, hooray. But I wrote you this poem.
There won’t be two candles atop a cake. You won’t try to blow them out with your baby breath. But I will light a candle for you and others might too.
There won’t be a birthday party tomorrow as others might know it. But I feel your birthday to the very depths of my bones. A birthday is for letting someone know how much you love them. And I love you forever, my baby boy still.
Imagine learning a new language. Struggling to wrap your mind and tongue around strange combinations of sounds. Frustrated when you cannot make yourself understood in your adopted language. Elated when you finally manage to string a sentence together. And then, almost without realising, you are fluent in this language. It has become an intrinsic part of you and sometimes you even find yourself forming thoughts in this once foreign tongue. Then imagine waking one day, finding you can barely remember more than a few words. Your mind grasps for the sentences that once flowed easily and comes up with …. nothing.
Lately, this is how grief has felt. June is here and some days bite with more ferocity that others. I find myself back in places I thought I had left far behind. Grief is not a linear journey. It does not follow neat and logical stages. It is circular and that is frustrating. I have worked hard to get to a comfortable place in my grief. I have tried to integrate Xavier into my life in a positive way. I have deliberately pulled myself away from wallowing. I have strived to be in the best place I can be. And here I am, despite all that work, feeling very much like I did after we first said Goodbye. I have lost my fluency.
The other day, as I was preparing dinner, I had to mentally cheer myself on. Cut the carrots. Good. Now put the water onto boil. Great – see you can do this. This was a tactic I have not had to employ since the very early stages of grief. The need to take things very slowly and deal with every second as it comes and on its own terms. The need to exert an enormous degree of energy on seemingly simple tasks. I was reminded of why grief can be so very draining.
What terrifies and fascinates me is how little control I have over the way my mind works. It has tucked away these dates like land mines and as the months tred upon June and July, they explode. They blow me back. They take me into the darker places. Where rage simmers and the emotions that I believe I can control threaten to consume me. I find myself balanced on a knife’s edge.
I berate myself for being like this. I have a beautiful family who need me, no matter what month it happens to be. Xavier’s death left a hole, but at times it feels like I am the only one who sees it. My life was changed by his leaving, and my life stayed exactly the same after he left. In many ways, I feel that I do not have permission to still grieve violently. That I should put away a portion of Xavier’s birthday to be sad and get on with every thing else. Seize control and beat grief back into its Pandora’s box. But grief defies this quaraintine – it does not stay neatly in one aspect of my life. It bleeds into others. Grief does not care that I need to make school lunches or attend a birthday party. It marches stridently across my heart and demands my attention.
And I will have to deal with it. I know enough of grief and her relentless tide that she will not be beaten back. The waves will gain and gain until they crash. But even as I do, I know that gentler days and a calmer ocean will come again. As much as grief is a circuitous and messy business, I think I know my way back to gentleness. I might find myself back in places I had left behind, but the hard work has not, cannot, be for nought. I have toiled to lay the tracks I need to get myself back. My hard-won language has not been lost and I have only been temporarily rendered mute.