What are we celebrating?

Kai’s 12th birthday

In the car today, hubs mentioned, again, that he wants to have a party for our son’s birthday in May. All our kids have May birthdays, completely coincidentally. OK, mostly coincidentally. August is Change of Command season in the military, which means parties and liquor and date nights. You can take it to the logical conclusion …

My hubby mused about a full-on birthday party, with ice cream and cake, baby pictures (a family tradition), balloons, friends, pizza, all the stuff that’s at any good birthday party for a 13-year-old, except … except this party will be missing the birthday boy. Hubby feels like there is a still a life to celebrate, all 12 ½ years of it, and that we should hold on to Kai’s memory by making more good memories with the people who love him.

It all sounds like a creepy Sundance movie to me. My idea was a lot more like, “Let’s spend the day at the beach, as a family, and then we can silently light some Chinese lanterns and let them rise into the sunset.” (Fade in string music) And then maybe we can roast some marshmallows and tell Kai in whispers how much we still love him. Something like that.

Clearly, there’s not much overlap here. I’m a pretty dedicated extrovert, and socializing energizes me, or at least it used to. The pre-kid cocktail parties my hubby and I hosted were pretty spectacular and I always relished military functions when I could work the room. I like a good party. But planning a “happy” birthday party for my late son? I’m making a face like I just smelled some Stilton cheese.

Maybe I just want to keep holding my grief, and my boy, too close to me. Maybe it would be OK to get some friends together and it won’t be completely weird and awkward. Maybe other people want to remember our son’s birthday, too, but are worried to broach it because they don’t want to intrude.

Hubs, the 14 year old and I have talked around the topic now, weighing why we would want to bring friends together and why we would keep this close. I finally said, “Look, no matter what, it’s going to be a hard day. It’s going to be sad. For me, trying to keep it together with a house full of people would be hard, really hard.” My husband offered that it would be OK if I didn’t hold it all together, that it would be OK if I cried in front of friends.

Again, the Stilton Cheese Face. It’s one thing for people to know I’m sad, but for them to see it, and not be able to turn away from it? Ugh. I was born and raised on the east coast. There’s a certain respect for stoicism and for soldiering on after Hard Times. In my mother’s immortal words, “Put on your big girl panties.” Even after years of therapy in California, I’m still not comfortable putting it all out there. There’s a certain dignity in restraint, I tell myself. Be graceful. Put on your lipstick. Pull up your panties.

5th birthdayWe still have some time to let this sort itself out. That’s what I’m wishing, at least: the “right” thing to do will become evident. As though I could consult my vintage copy of Emily Post on “birthday party after death of a child.” What would that invitation even look like? Maybe Tim Burton would be the better choice to consult. Birthdays should be a true celebration, not an overly cheerful wake. Ever.

In the interim, I have a pirate party and a paintball party to plan. I’m sure Emily Post would approve, except maybe for the paintballing 15-year-old girls. And that’s OK. At least they’ll be wearing lipstick.

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