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Dealing with the special days when you’ve just lost someone

“The special days are the hardest,” they said. “The birthdays, the holidays, Christmas… That’s when you’ll miss your mom the most.” Except in the 3 weeks since my mom died, it’s been nothing but special days… This is birthday season.

First, my birthday – two days after my mom died. I love birthdays with a passion, and have a foolproof recipe for lovely birthdays, but this one was saturated in sadness, obviously. A few days later, my nephew turned one. Ouch. Then on Friday, Arty’s birthday. Five years ago, my mom was at the hospital meeting her first grandson. Every year since she’s either been here, helping me plan his party, or the recipient of hundreds of progress report photos along the way. This year?

And today: my mom’s birthday. I woke up crying and haven’t stopped.

Why does it matter so much, the special days? I understand Christmas, because there’s an empty seat. What am I saying, I understand birthdays too. The one day you honour someone and tell them how much you love them and how much they mean to you. My mom did birthdays so well – she turned me into the birthday lover I am by showering us with attention and presents and cake and love all day long. We tried to return the favour.

It’s also a marker, I suppose, of the first one of each of these for the rest of my life. I’ll never again have a birthday with my mom, Arty won’t ever have a birthday with his nanny. I’ll never call my mom for her birthday again. That feels unbearably sad to me… And exhausting.

Each year after Arty’s Birthday Extravaganza (cake in bed! Presents! Cupcakes for school! Party for 20-30 kids with a jumping castle, birthday cake and pinata!) I feel exhausted, but this year exponentially more than usual, because to muster birthday spirit from the depths of sadness feels like pulling water from a very deep well in a desert. And to talk about how I’m feeling after my mom’s death to well-meaning parents while their kids run around stuffing chips in their faces is surreal.

So! A quiet day (as quiet as possible). A gentle day. A day of remembering my mom, as if there was ever a chance to forget her.

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