A reader writes: My Mom's 79th birthday happens this week, and this will be my first big "day" without her. She died last winter and at first I truly didn't think I would be able to go on. As time has started to pass, I am functioning but some days are much harder than others. I always find myself reliving the day she died and I'm grateful I was there with her but still find myself focusing on those memories instead of happy ones. I had one dream in which she was there and I was hugging her and crying and telling her how afraid I was to lose her and how I didn't know how I could live the rest of my life without my Mom (I'm 37). That's the only dream I've had even though I pray each night for some sign from her. Now it's her birthday......
I got through Christmas by not celebrating and by not staying home. My husband and I took a trip so that I wouldn't have to be surrounded by all the memories (and I've vowed to go back to all my traditions next year.....guess we'll see how that turns out...)....I'm just not sure how to face her birthday...how to come to work and just pretend all is fine.....how to get through the day without talking to her and singing "Happy Birthday" to her.....I was really focusing on how to get through the anniversary of her death (I'm going to go to the cemetery for the first time that day....it's several states away so I can't visit without a planned trip)....but now I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of my mom's birthday....
Thank you for reading this and if you've gotten through a "first" birthday, I'd really appreciate any words of wisdom...thank you and wishing you peace...
My response: Since your beloved mother’s birthday is coming up so soon, I don’t want to wait too long to offer some thoughts that I hope will be helpful to you.
First, I think the worst thing you can do is to wait until the morning of this day to decide what to do with your mother’s birthday. Now is the time to decide and to plan how you will spend that day ~ just don’t let it sneak up on you. Even if you deliberately decide not to do anything out of the ordinary on that day, that’s okay, too ~ as long as you think about it and intentionally plan for it ahead of time. That’s what will give you a feeling of control, a sense that you are managing your grief rather than letting your grief manage you.
Keep in mind too that, in one sense, this date is simply another day on the calendar, and you will be missing your mom just as much on that day as you have missed her today or as you will miss her tomorrow. Days on the calendar are only as important or as significant as we choose to make them.
That said, I want to encourage you to go right ahead and commemorate your mom on her special day, in any way you see fit, including singing “Happy Birthday” to her right out loud! Read what this mother has to say about talking to her daughter who has died:
. . . You can have these one-sided conversations while you’re alone, or even just in your mind, without speaking aloud at all . . . Shortly after her death, I told [my daughter] that I didn’t want to live in a world without her. Yet from deep inside myself I had to admit that I did not live in a world without her - I simply could no longer see her. Certainly love remained. Love never ends. Nor had our relationship ended. She will forever be a part of me, and I of her.
Sometime later I again told her that I didn’t want to live because living without her was the hardest thing I’d ever had to face. But again, from deep inside me, I had to admit that I was not living without her. She smiles at me from photographs, my heart sings when I relive snippets of private conversations with her or remember shared laughter and shopping expeditions and vacations, or recall joyous family gatherings in which she always played such a vital part. Additionally, several of her friends have become my friends, and so I have come to know them as she knew them, and they give back a small part of her as well as a part of themselves. I ‘ve embraced some of her interests and find myself, in a very real and deep sense, sharing myself with her in those endeavors. So my life continues in spite of myself.
Recently I told her I’m still not crazy about living in this world, which remains as different from my world of six years ago as noon from midnight. But I also tell her that I’m learning to find my way, learning to appreciate each new day for the opportunities it brings, learning to refoice in all the new discoveries I made about the endurance and depth of unconditional love. My progress has been snailishly slow but steady.
I tell her often that I love her, too. I doubt that I shall ever give up these one-sided conversations. They allow me to involve my daughter in this new world of mine. What’s more, I don’t feel the least apologetic about it. This practice has been one of several techniques that have helped me to keep my sanity and to re-enter the world with some enthusiasm . . .There are as many ways to acknowledge and to celebrate a deceased loved one’s birthday as there are daughters who are mourning the loss of their mothers and wanting to commemorate them, and you are limited only by your own imagination. As I wish for peace and comfort for your aching heart, I also hope that you will come back afterward and let me know what you decided to do with this particular day.
~ From “When Grief is New” by Shirley Ottman, HOPE Line Newsletter, August 2002
Afterword: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your message. Today is my wonderful, beautiful mother's birthday and, as you suggested, I spent the past few days thinking about today and planning for today so that I would have some control over it.....some being the key word there!
I took half the day off of work and spoke with my oldest brother on the telephone for about an hour (he and I are approx. at the same place in the process ...functioning but still getting overwhelmed). Speaking with him about my Mom was really good for both of us. We talked about how much we miss her but also about how much she truly wanted us to be happy when we thought about her and how we needed to spend today celebrating her life. I'm sure that everyone's parent wishes the same for all of their children.....that you would be happy and know in your hearts that they will always be with you and that they truly love you.
As for how I celebrated it, I definitely took your message to heart and felt inspired. We have a beautiful lake near our house and my husband and I bought a helium-filled birthday balloon that said Happy Birthday Mom....it was covered with lots of pictures of flowers because my mom LOVED the spring....We went to this quiet spot on the water's edge and sang Happy Birthday to her and then we both released the balloon. We stayed and watched it as it floated away and watched it until it disappeared into the clouds.....It's really a cold windy day here but the sun came out as we got there and it was a very emotional but beautiful moment.
Thank you again. I truly wish others peace and hope that you can hold on to the hope and belief that although you will always miss your mom and/or your dad, it will get easier because they will always be with you.....without them you wouldn't be you and they loved you and nothing can ever change that.
Wishing you all peace.
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