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  • Writer's picture Jana

More Joy and More Laughter, but Still Some Tears Too. A Very Different Birthday From Last Year.

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

My birthday falls on 9/9. Last. year, my mother passed away less than a week before my birthday, on 9/3/2020. The kids and I had everything planned, but those plans never happened. I was in a whirlwind of shock and grief over my mom's very unexpected death. Instead of the celebration we had planned, my dear friend Shelley came over to be with me and the kids on my birthday, just to help get me and us get through it, in essence. She brought my favorite Chinese chicken salad from Feast From the East. I remember she even brought the most delicious lemon cake from Bristol Farms. She and the kids surprised me by hiding the cake in the mudroom refrigerator and then, while I was cleaning up after dinner, they all went back together, got the cake, lit the candles and came into the kitchen singing Happy Birthday. I was reduced to a puddle of tears, feeling both gratitude for the love behind trying to make my birthday feel just a bit like a birthday, and also feeling overwhelmed at idea that this was my first birthday without my mother. That was last year.

A year has passed since that horrible time. In mid-to-late August, I started to feel dread, both about the impending anniversary of her death and also my upcoming birthday, which now have become inextricably tied to one another. I worried that I would be swallowed up by sadness by those two important events (not to mention the collective grief the country was feeling about the 20th anniversary of 9/11). But that's not what happened. As I wrote about in my last blog post,, the anniversary of her death ended up being much more celebratory. than sad, which I was both surprised by and grateful for. My birthday went much the same way.

This is not to say that I did not have moments of immense sadness last week. The grief hit me especially hard on the morning of my birthday. My mom was. always the first person to call me and wish me a happy birthday, so the silence of that call not coming in was deafening. I went on my usual morning walk and cried for much of it. I knew that my phone was not going to ring. with her on the other end, wishing me a happy birthday. My heart ached at the finality of that.

My mom always started to talk about my birthday, what felt like, months in advance. She would say, "I know it's a bit early and you hate when I ask you this question, but I wanted to find out if you've given any thought to what you might want this year for your birthday?" Mom, it's only July! I have four kids. Do you think I've had a moment to think about myself, much less what I might want for my birthday?! We would have many more conversations like this, each year, between July and the arrival of my birthday, in September, with her growing more insistent at giving her ideas for a gift as the day grew closer. It was so important to her, that I know how important my birthday was to her. Her's was always the first card to arrive in the mail. She would buy it months in advance and it was always one of the sappiest Hallmark cards that you could imagine, about mothers and daughters. But that's truly how she felt. I saved every one of those mushy cards she ever gave me, but have yet to find the strength or courage to open the boxes in which they reside, to read them. Some day.

I know that my mom would have wanted me to celebrate my birthday this year, so we did. It wasn't big and it wasn't fancy, but it was a far cry from last year. We dragged out those rose-themed decorations that we ordered last year, cut roses from the garden and had ourselves a little family party.

My birthday will never be the same now that my mom, the person who brought me into this world, is no longer here to celebrate with me, with us. So there will always be a terrible void I feel on that day. But she would want me to be happy, carry on and celebrate with, and for my children. That is who she was, so that is what I will do, to honor her memory.

Shelley took me to a lovely birthday lunch. It was so nice to be out for a girl's lunch, of which are still a rarity during Covid. We caught up on life, talked about my mom, ate yummy salads and shared a piece of decadent chocolate cake for dessert. Perfection!

Our rose-themed party, a year late.

It was so wonderful to see the kids happy and celebratory on my birthday. Each made me the most beautiful handmade cards.

I cooked dinner (of course!). I chose a steakhouse restaurant theme which included a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and topped with freshly cooked chopped bacon, red onion and chunks of gorgonzola cheese; grilled New York Steaks; three varieties of mushrooms sautéed in with garlic, red wine and topped with fresh parsley; Yukon gold mashed potatoes; and oven-roasted asparagus.

I got to have one of my favorite kinds of cake for dessert, Black Forest! For the record, there isn't any flavor of cake I don't love.

We cried a bit and a laughed a lot at dinner. It was a lovely birthday.

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