Birthdays and grief are a thing. I’m just learning this. I knew it, intellectually, but I felt it like a fresh cut for the first time this last birthday. First let me back up.
Two weeks ago, my mom wasn’t well and I was called to take her to urgent care. We’re in a pandemic so I get excited to take her to appointments as I don’t normally get to take her anywhere. After we parked, I came around to unbuckle her seatbelt and help her out of the car. As we started towards the clinic, I realized she couldn’t really walk. She shuffled her feet slowly, so slowly. I wanted to say, “Pick up your feet, mom.” But I knew better. It took us a long time to get from the parking lot to the waiting room. Noticing our snail pace, the security guard offered us a wheelchair. My mom in a wheelchair? It came as a great idea.
Yes, a wheelchair will help us significantly.
We struggled to help her sit in it. I kept saying, “Sit here, mom.” But she couldn’t follow directions. My words meant nothing to her. The security guard had more practice than I did and successfully got her seated.
In the doctor’s office, my mom couldn’t answer the questions. She just looked at the her, dazed with those glassy eyes. She didn’t know her birthday or her last name.
This is where we are at.
Here’s where I want to tell you about her beautiful smile and her sweet laugh but I don’t want to take away from the real pain that this new reality brings upon us. I want to tell you it’s not that bad, it could be worse. But right now, let’s stay where we are at. This hard place.
The decline in the past year is devastating. I’ve mostly shut myself off to its reality. Or that it’s going to get worse. I compartmentalize as a coping mechanism. I could probably teach a class, I’ve gotten so good at it. I dream about her at night and I cry. I wake up sad and exhausted, and then I carry on, because what else am I to do?
I don’t visit her enough because it makes it too real and if I don’t see her, I can pretend it’s not as bad as it is.
And then I feel waves of guilt – immense guilt.
There is a messy middle to it, but usually I’m either comfortable in my place of disassociation, or, like on my birthday, I end up sobbing, and feeling completely gutted.
The days approaching my birthday I was aware of the low level grief of life in a pandemic.This was my second covid birthday. No dance parties or boisterous dinners.
Last year at this time, we were freshly new to life in lockdown. I had been spending so much time with my mom up to covid that I didn’t miss her on my actual birthday. I didn’t experience any feelings of grief.
This year though…this year, it felt like a ton of bricks. I woke up and was greeted with so much facebook love. My sister posted a photo in celebration of my special day. It was the three of us (me, mom, sister) and my eyes immediately filled with tears. Oh how I miss her. How I wish she was still here. Sure, she is still alive, and I’m grateful for that, and I appreciate the beloved folks at Hope and a Future for caring for her like family. But for me, the mom I miss and want, is gone.
I went on with my day – trying to enjoy it – while feeling the sting of the morning tears at the corner of my eyes.
Later in the day, Claudia, my mom’s caretaker, sent me the most beautiful video compilation that broke me open. I didn’t realize it was going to happen but as I watched the video, and my mom singing to me, distant, yet alive, tears started flowing down my face. I shut it off, went to my room, lay on the bed, and cried all the tears I had wanted to cry but couldn’t…until that moment.
I reached out to some of my friends who have lost their moms and sure enough, this is a thing. The sadness on our birthdays, remembering the mother that birthed us, is a thing. It’s a new thing to me, but now I know, it’s a real thing.
I’m sorry to all of you who know exactly what I’m talking about. Not in a pity way – but with a deeper understanding of how painful it can be. I guess we call that empathy.
For a moment I felt an angry empathy. I don’t want to know this feeling. I don’t want you to experience this either. I was able to witness the angry little girl inside of me. It was my cue to take a couple of deep breaths and acknowledge my own humanity and my understanding of loss and love. My husband sat next to me and stroked my hair. He was gentle, compassionate.
Don’t get me wrong, I was able to celebrate my birthday and the awesomeness that is happening in my life – all of the delicious flavors were sprinkled throughout the day: the sadness and grief, the missing of my mom, the joys in my life, my kickass husband, our deep love for each other, all my friends, the community love, and springtime weather! There was a lot to celebrate – and, yes, I did dance around to loud music. I am living my life to its fullest.
Yet, the fullness includes grief – different kinds of grief – with different intensities.
Emotions are feelings that come and go. They do not define me.
Tears come and go. Sadness is an emotion that I will experience but it cannot consume me.
Happiness is usually around the corner, sometimes further down the block. A good song will always come on and I will turn it up. Louder then is appropriate.
Joy is a part of my life, it is in my cells. I can’t help but be joyful.
And I can’t help but experience sadness. Because I know a powerful love that is no longer what it was. I have a mom with alzheimer’s that is in a weird place of here and not here. I miss her, I miss us, I miss the phone calls and our hour long conversations, and the wisdom, and the way we were together. I miss her.
I know our love is beyond this world and will be with me forever -for the rest of my life – but I miss her now. And sometimes that is sad.