I'm fresh of the heels of a 48 hour sob fest.
I just got grief-slammed by the back-to-back line up of Mother's Day and my 36th birthday. Over the past two years (and way back when after my dad died), my birthday has proven to be one of the more difficult days for me to get through. My sister's birthday in March isn't nearly as hard (I'm not sure why), but there is certainly something very painful about my aging.
My 7th birthday party was all birthday bows and eye patches.
Sunday morning to Monday night consisted of frequent crying, and the heavy weight of complete misery and hopelessness. On Mother's Day I woke up feeling better than expected and my husband and I subjected ourselves to toddler time at Sky Zone. While I imagined it'd be mobbed with non-moms trying to get the kids out of the house for a few hours, we were one of only three families in the warehouse of trampolines. It was a welcomed surprise, and I thought we were in for a peaceful morning.
After settling into our spaces, and watching my daughter "jump" (aka prance awkwardly), I looked up to see a young kid making a bee line for me. When he bumped into me and fell in my square, I moved over. I was slightly annoyed because there were 25 free trampolines all around us, but he looked energetic and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. This boy followed me to the next trampoline. I'm a firm follower of the 'Fly Safe' rules that Sky Zone enforces, number one being only one person per square. Irritated, I glanced over to see what adult was with him and I saw that he had arrived with his mom and a newborn sibling in a car seat. This kid followed me from square to square. He was so close to my body that it was like we were tethered together with handcuffs. I started jumping away, faster, desperate for personal space and the opportunity focus on my daughter's graceless movement as a distraction from Mother's Day. Instead this boy stuck to me more closely. In my silent seething, I imagined myself turning around and screaming into his 4 year old face to BACK THE FUCK OFF. Perhaps not doing so was the strongest moment of willpower of my weekend*.
Sky Zone patrons following the rules.
Instead of screaming at this child, I took my daughter off the trampolines to the foam pit. A mother had been there for ten minutes before us, throwing her daughter in over and over again. If you've been in the foam pit you know it's impossible to get out. We waited as the child struggled to extract herself from the smelly foam cushions. Whenever she freed herself, and started walking away from the pit, her mom coaxed her back so she could be thrown again. Further this time. I began to realize that this mom was purposefully holding this space (maybe because she had already encountered that little boy and wanted to stay away from him too). My daughter, Corinne, repeatedly asked for her turn, and I softly encouraged her to wait patiently. Why didn't I just ask the woman to let us go? Because I was so incredibly delicate that it was taking everything in my power not to break down sobbing.
I knew these two days would be hard, they were terrible last year, but I didn't really do anything to prepare myself (even though I JUST reflected on and wrote a post with tips on getting through trigger days. I mean, seriously....).
I did take one step on the Friday before, an attempt to thwart my anxiety from rising towards its inevitable (?) crescendo. I posted some words to let people know what I needed:
While I’m so incredibly thankful to be healthy today, and to have a healthy and happy child, I will not feel happy on those days. I am swiftly moving closer to 37 - the age when my sister's life abruptly and unfairly ended. I am not happy that my nephew no longer has a living mother, or that my mom has to navigate a day celebrating the parent-child relationship when her daughter isn’t here. I'm not happy that my sister isn't calling me this year to brag about how she sent her Mother's Day gift three days before me and that she was the favorite daughter (she was always trying to show me up...!).
If you know other people struggling because they've lost a child or parent recently, or if they are widowed and no longer have their partner, consider changing your language if/when you connect with them this year.
Part of me still feels childish about the birthday stuff and asking people not to wish me a happy birthday in the traditional way. Complaining about your birthday feels reserved for people who dress up in sparkly outfits to go out with friends and are annoyed when someone doesn't want to split the cost of a limo for your "special day". Part of me worried how this would be received. Part of me imagined people rolling their eyes. But the biggest part of me needed the right support, so I posted.
I've been thinking more about coexisting in a space of gratitude and sadness, especially after reading Salt In My Soul (where the author speaks of the same thing in regards to living with cystic fibrosis). I feel a wordless pressure to move forward and to be thankful for what I still have. Not to forget my losses exactly, but certainly to reemerge from my self-imposed isolation and join the land of the living in all of its delightful charades — BBQs, exchanging holiday merriment or even basic tasks like returning emails or phone calls. How long can I use my sister's death as an explanation for my lack of attendance? Maybe these subtle messages are only coming from my own guilt and sense of obligation. I've been really selfish for the past 21 months, because it's felt like the only way that I can survive. But is this true? Should I be trying harder to emerge from my safe space? I honestly have no idea.
One of the many people (and spaces) I'm so thankful for — my daughter observing worms in our community garden plot.
Since my sister died, I've been trying to be appreciative. In the early days I would document one thing I was grateful for everyday. I am so thankful for my health, and for the simple fact that I'm living. I'm thankful that I can work from home in this space of trying to change the way people talk about and support the bereaved. I'm thankful for comfortable shoes and slow cookers and cookies. But appreciation and sadness don't cancel each other out. And while I am so thankful that I am here and healthy, I'm also so, so sad that my sister isn't. Life is so much less fun now.
In 2016, within two months of turning 36, my sister was diagnosed with cancer. She lived for 37 years, 4 months and 9 days. If everything continues as it is, I will soon be older than her. It is an extremely strange experience to close the age gap between you and your sibling (or if you are older, to continue to increase the gap). There are some things in life that feel set in stone, and the three years between myself and Alison were something that felt as certain as gravity. As a child I imagined she'd die 3 years before me, and I always felt bad for my brother because he'd have nine years alone after I kicked the bucket. My sister is part of the narrative that I've repeated over and over from the very beginning.
"Do you have any siblings?" "How old are they?"
I grew up with a cohort of classmates who also had siblings my sister's age. I had a big sister and a younger brother, just like my husband (something his mom found very telling when she realized we were both middle children).
One of my earliest clear memories is at my sister's 7th birthday party. My mom set it up in the garage (so smart!), and it was the first time I learned how birthdays/aging worked. Our exchange went something like this:
By the way - this is what cartoon me actually looked like around the time of this exchange at my sister's party...impressive, huh?
Next May, if/when I turn 37, I must be better prepared. Alison and I will be the same age, and it will be the mother-of-all trigger days. I don't know what I will do, but I have 364 days to think about it (thankfully 2020 is a leap year so I have one extra day to plan).
*For those thinking, WTF, he is a child, has a newborn sibling and is going through a big life transition...what's wrong with you? My answer is — you're right. I should have been patient. But I couldn't be on that day.
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