It’s a dichotomy for those of us who have lost children. We do not wish to forget their birthdays, but “celebrate” isn’t exactly the word we want to use to describe what we do on that day either.
Add to that the fact that Emily was born on the 4th of July. How do you NOT celebrate that day?
(We also buried Emily on a holiday because it just seemed right and fitting).
So, what do you do to celebrate the birthday of a child you no longer hold this side of Heaven? Well, I guess you “celebrate” the best you can.
For us, that means
a new summer wreath along with other momentos placed at her grave,
sparklers for the children,
We also indulge in a treat like a cake or giant cookie in honor of her birthday. The children see all of this as fun…a celebration of sorts. I am happy for them.
For Ty and I it is edged with sadness. There is no way around it. We smile and laugh with the children as tears well up and silently spill over. We brush them away and keep going.
It is what it is.
I cannot curl up into a ball of oblivion. My children need to see stability and strength. Yes, they need to see tears too, but not the kind that send fear and desperation stabbing to the core of their fragile hearts. They lost a sister. That isn’t pleasant. They grieve. They hurt. They cry. But they need to know they will be okay. They need to feel blessed for having had Emily in their family. They need to know we feel just as blessed to have them in our family.
You might be wondering how you ever find your way back to a place where you can celebrate. Maybe you wonder if it is somehow sacrilegious to smile. Perhaps you feel a stab of guilt whenever you begin to feel happy about something. Surely, spending the rest of your life pining away shows just how much you loved your child.
I beg to differ.
Several months ago, a woman stopped me in the hallway during a conference and told me she had just found out my daughter had died. She spoke of how joyful I am and how by looking at me she would never have guessed what tragedy had struck our family.
At first, I felt guilt…overpowering, soul-searching guilt. Was I not acting the part of the grieving mother? Was my ability to find joy amongst the ashes dishonoring to my child? How could I just move on?
But the truth is, I am changed. I am less likely to mince words. I have less patience for petty things. I have a clarity I didn’t have before when it comes to my family. I love more fiercely and feel more deeply.
And one of the emotions I feel more deeply is joy.
When you’ve felt the deepest, darkest grief a person can feel, you will know true joy when you see it. Don’t be afraid to embrace it.
I don’t sit around with a sappy mindless smile on my face all the time. I am thoughtful and reflective when I need to be.
Grieving isn’t pleasant. It never seems quite finished. Sometimes it feels like I am paddling upstream.
But it really is just taking one day, one moment at a time.
So, as the country celebrated their independence, we celebrated too. We celebrated a life we were blessed to hold for 7 months. We celebrated her freedom from the cares of this world. We celebrated a family forever changed and a family forever changing.
We are blessed and that is something worth celebrating.