Happy Birthday, Grief

Happy Birthday, Grief

Grief is trying to sneak up on me again, but I’m ready for her. In less than a week, October will be over.

October is the birthday month for me and both of my parents, who were born on the same day, two years apart. Destiny, I guess. I find that an overwhelming number of my friends have October birthdays, just like me. I’m not into horoscopes, but I think I am a kindred spirit with all October people. I am most definitely a kindred spirit of my mom’s. It startles me how much I am like her now.

Anyway, this Friday marks two birthdays without her. The special days hurt more than most; that’s what everybody says. Mom won’t be here to wish me “Happy Birthday!” and I won’t be able to wish her “Happy Birthday!” on Tuesday. We won’t enjoy cake and ice cream and reminisce about all the Halloween-themed birthday parties we both had growing up.

I can still picture my little friends around Mom’s dining room table year after year–Naomi a ghost, Michelle a gypsie, Bethamy a wicked queen, Kristen a clown, me a witch. I could do an impressive evil witch laugh like the Wicked Witch of the North, so it was a perfect costume for me. I would regale my friends with my witch laugh, causing everyone to scream in delight. I had to get the laugh over with quick, because about 30 minutes into the party, we’d shed our masks and come out for air. In the 70s, Halloween masks were plastic–held to your head with a cutting elastic string–and the breathing holes were small. If you kept your mask more than 10 minutes, it was wet with sweat.

For my birthday, Mom always made me a two-layer butter pecan cake with butter pecan frosting. It was just Betty Crocker, but I thought it was the most delicious cake in the world. We only had it on my birthday. Once, in adulthood, Mom and I made it again, and when we ate it, we grimaced at the sweetness. Truly disgusting. Goes to show you the power of positive memories.

I loved birthdays for the festivities–the cake and friends and presents, of course. But looking back, I’m warmed by the memory of it all, the labor of love, the time stolen from Mom’s busy life as a college professor with two kids and no husband and not much money. Stolen time?

No. she gave it gladly. And I miss her for it. I miss all those given moments. The turning away from her paper-grading to read one of my stories. The finishing up of dishes in time to play Monopoly with us. The weekly bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough and two spoons so we could sample it before it went on the cookie sheets. Reading in bed. Picking out fabric and teaching me to sew. Showing me how to mend books, how to refinish furniture, how to have a garage sale, how to elbow your way into a store on Black Friday. Always learning, always teaching, and both of us laughing. I remember her warmth.

There it is. The deep ache. Hello, Grief. I knew you were coming.

I can feel Mom. I hope the sense of her never goes away. If it does, don’t tell me. I can’t bear it.

Always, I want to feel the warmth of being with Mom. Something about mothers makes us feel like children, doesn’t it? I suppose that’s why we distance ourselves from them during adolescence and young adulthood. Then, life is about declaring your independence and doing the opposite of what she tells you to do.

But now I’d love to feel like a child again–not be a child, just feel the warmth of it. But Mom’s not here, so it’s not possible.

The ache says, “Happy birthday, Mom.” And the ache answers back in Mom’s voice, “Happy birthday, Susie.” Because I want to hear her voice in my childish ears, the ones hidden behind a witch mask, attached to a sweaty face tasting plastic but anticipating butter pecan.

Happy birthday, Grief. You’re part of the family now. I can’t have her without you, so I guess you’re welcome to join us for our birthday week.

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