Today would be my mom’s sixty-second birthday. It’s been eighteen years and thirty-seven days since her death. Having processed all the stages of grief years ago, special dates like birthdays now simply shift to noticing and reflecting.
Today is also my cousin’s birthday, which is easier to remember. Sending my cousin birthday wishes comes freely and genuinely, whereas years ago, there was a cloud of sadness. Looking at the calendar today, it is a day like any other with the addition of reflecting on how this date has morphed.
My mind drifts toward other dates, like the anniversary of her death, which is also now the anniversary of when my husband and I closed escrow on our home, which we love. That date now holds a warmth and calmness.
I notice that I chose to wear some of her jewelry in remembrance. Something I often do when I want that extra presence, like when my siblings come over for dinner. It was about 6 or 7 years ago that I stopped texting them, “Happy Mom’s Birthday! Love you and thinking of you!” That bond between us, while strong, has changed as we age.
It started as a promise to never forget, as if that would prove our love, and therefore the opposite must also have been true: forgetting meant that we didn’t love enough. (A belief I have since dissolved and found freedom from). I remember clinging to my goal of visiting her gravesite every holiday, anniversary and birthday. That turned into a very painful activity as even seeing her name and dates of life would trigger deep, snotty sobbing. After a few years, when I could visit and share updates on everyone’s lives peacefully, the time I spent there grew less frequent.
I’ve stopped cooking her recipes on holidays and adopted new traditions based on what I enjoy and discover during my culinary experiments in the kitchen. Many of the Christmas decorations that I kept for sentiment have deteriorated with age and I was able to throw many away this past holiday. In years past, the broken ones would remain in the plastic containers when uncovered amongst the other holiday decor.
I notice that I recognize my own age inching closer and closer to her end date. I wonder how that will feel to live longer than she did. The next milestone will be when I hit as many years without her as I spent with her in my day-to-day life.
As I reflect on the journey, I notice my gratitude for the relationships that have grown out of that space. My aunt is a prime example. My mother’s older sister has been very much a surrogate mother to me and to my sister. Her unwavering love and presence has been such a gift. She called a few minutes ago to say she was thinking of me, without even realizing the day. (She’s retired and doesn’t pay as much attention to dates as she once did…oh what a joy that must be, too!) It’s special conversations and moments like that, which may not have happened had our bond not forged in years of leaning on each other and putting in that extra effort and time into the relationship.
I’m grateful for the person I have grown to be. I’m proud that I’ve found peace on the other side of grief. While the saying rings true, “Time heals all things,” I believe that where we are most broken, we find our greatest strength…it just takes time to realize it.