Soon after our son passed away, I started dreading this day. I would often think, “Oh, God. His birthday. How will we ever get through that day? It’s going to be terrible. That will be the second worst day of my life.”
How would we possibly feel any joy on his birthday? It’s a day that should be all about celebrating him, but there is no him anymore, not physically. We’d talked about having a party but decided it would be too weird, having a birthday party with no birthday boy.
How could this day be anything other than wrenching? The anticipation of today, not the good kind, has fed the monster in my mind that eats anxiety like potato chips. I’ve spent the last few days constantly feeling like I could throw up.
Last minute, I decided to start the day by going to daily mass. Even if I couldn’t concentrate on it, I thought, at least I could savor the quiet time. At the start of mass, Father always mentions for whom the mass is offered. I hadn’t checked the schedule in the bulletin, so I was surprised to hear it was being offered for our Kai. A thoughtful church friend must have requested it, remembering today is Kai’s birthday. In the pauses between prayers, I listened to the fountain in our church that is the baptismal font.
I left mass with an overwhelming sense of peace, and, strangely, a strong feeling of gratitude. That surprised me. Where had that come from? Why would I be thankful, in any way, for a day that I had already anticipated to be flat out horrific? Driving home, I made a decision. I would consciously find reasons today for gratitude. Maybe it was corny, or fakey, but if I could turn my mind towards gratefulness, maybe it would keep me from feeling overwhelmed by sadness.
And then it began.
A cascade of messages, emails, gifts, prayers, and thoughtfulness poured over us. It continued all day. I had reason after reason to offer a thank you prayer, and then another, and another. Strung together, those prayers are what pulled me through today. Thank you, Lord, for friends and family who lifted us up in prayer and remembered us in positive thoughts, and for all the messages they sent. Because of them, our loneliness is diminished. When we start to feel isolated, they remind us we’re not making this journey alone.
Thank you for the Hawaiian music that filled our house today. How can anyone listen to slack key guitar and Bruddah Iz and not feel happier?
Thank you for the promise of heaven. We know any birthday celebration here is just a portion of the eternal celebration with You. We know Kai is happy, and free, and living every moment in the Light of your Love. We know that we have the hope of seeing him again, perfected and joyful.
Thank you for the Eucharist, and for our church family. We can hold You so close, and be held close by others. Faith is what binds us together. When anxiety overwhelms us, in the moments we felt so scattered and confused, we remember we are tightly wound in Your love and in community.
Thank you for special gifts that appeared today: a book, a card, a beautiful birthday cake, bouquets of My Little Pony balloons, party supplies, a collection of funny stories. We didn’t want to celebrate today, but a pre-packaged party showed up at our door. How could we say no?
Thank you for hot wings. They were Kai’s favorite, and having them today reminded us of so many fun family times.
Thank you for gifting us with 12 ½ years of light and joy. We have so many good moments to hold on to, to take out and turn over, when the sadness creeps in. We could be bitter about the time we won’t have, but then we remember: those moments we will never have with Kai were never ours to hold. We were given 4,544 days. Those are ours to keep forever, and today, we celebrated every one of them. Today was not the nail-biting test of endurance I had anticipated. It wasn’t the best day, but it wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t anything close to horrible. Our family was together today, all of us, including Kai. In every kindness, message, and prayer that was gifted to us today, Kai was present. I was able to exhale, after weeks of holding my breath, and breathe in peace. With a lot of help, I was able to experience more gratitude than grief. Tears came, but they didn’t linger. Today was a happy birthday, and for that, I’m especially grateful.