Today is my birthday.
I’ve spent the last two days focusing on my grandpa. We shared this day as our birthday and I celebrated my first 21 birthdays with him. He even went to the casino with me on my 21st (his 70th) for drinks and to play slots. So many special memories come to mind surrounding our birthday, from blowing out the candles together, to Labor Day picnics, to a motorcycle ride to Eat ‘n Park for a birthday breakfast.
My grandfather’s death was my first experience with grief. I remember crying on the floor in my grandparent’s bathroom after saying goodbye to my grandpa for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. I remember telling my cousin at the funeral that I didn’t want them to close the casket because as soon as they did, it would be real. There were tears over songs that made me think of him. There were tears when I looked at other grandpas with their grandchildren. Eventually the tears came less often. The heart healed, though it would never be the same.
Now, eight years later, my heart still hurts on days like today. It hurt on my wedding day when Grampa was not there. It hurts on Christmas morning when he doesn’t call first thing to wish us “Merry Christmas”! It hurts when a commercial comes on TV and the song in the background is George Jones.
It is true that we move through grief. It changes us. It makes us stronger. It enables us to be more compassionate. Over time, though the loss is always present, the pain lessens. Now, when we think of Gramps, we remember happy times. We enjoy some of the things he enjoyed as a way to remember him. We tell stories and laugh together. Share pictures and songs.
This birthday I’ve come to realize, between my lessening grief for my grandpa and my unbroken grief for my baby, that life really is precious. What a gift. It was such a gift to have Gramps for as long as we did. When a life is long and full, you can celebrate amid your grief.
And when life is taken from this earth far too soon, you grieve that which you knew, those kicks and punches and rolls and the sound of Joanna’s heartbeat, and you grieve the future you’d dreamed for your child.
I didn’t really want to celebrate my birthday this year, but I realize now that each year, each day, is a gift. Even if I’ve had to go through the hardest thing in my life during my last year, it was also my best year. I had a daughter and she was beautiful. I got to hold her. Then, I was forced to change, to grow, to become stronger, to break down, to rise again. Joanna’s life, however short, was the greatest gift. She made me a mom and she taught me that life is fragile, unpredictable and beautiful.
Somewhere between my griefs today, I celebrated the gift of my life, and I celebrated life, for those who cannot.
Here’s to my life and yours, may we always remember how blessed we are to be here [still].