I have a birthday this week. It’s my first birthday without my mother.

I’m not asking for “happy birthdays” or even remarks about “how good I look for my age.” I’m just trying to settle into a new decade (yuk!) and lean into who I am and who I’ve become. I’m desperately trying to move forward. Be proactive. Embrace a new era. But I feel as if my feet are sinking into a muddy pit, and if I step forward, I may sink further. And I will certainly lose my shoes.

There’s a new me ahead. The problem is I’m not sure I will like her.

And to make the week a tad more complicated, in seven days, I will also “celebrate” my parents’ birthdays. They were both born on the same day–Oct. 31–and they are now both gone from this life.

This is October, our birthday month, but we will not eat chocolate cake together. I will not buy Mom a present this year, not something I’ve picked out just for her that brings the exclamation, “You didn’t need to buy me gift!” I will not sing her “Happy Birthday” while she ducks her head modestly and laughs. I will not hear her ask how old I am now and marvel at the number. I will not thank her for being my mother or kiss her cheek while she tells me I’ve been a good daughter.

I have enjoyed 49 birthdays with the woman who gave me life, and this will be the first one without her. People who have grieved a loved one’s death warned me about this moment. They told me that all the “firsts” this year would be hard. I believe them.

This is my first “first.” I am a minefield of emotions, and I’m not completely sure how to tip-toe through this without blowing up. Already, I’ve handled it badly. I’m stepping on land-mines, and I’m sprinkling my grief all over the people around me, peppering them with raw, jumbled emotions, hoping they can read my changing moods and illogical expectations, even though I can’t.

Happy birthday to me. I’m older, wiser, and painfully aware of life and death.

I’m sure that’s a good thing, but this week, I’m not liking it so much.


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