Birthdays and Anniversaries
On Grief and Loss
Birthdays and Anniversaries are often remembered and celebrated with fondness. There’s another side to them. What if it’s the birthday of a loved one who is no longer alive? What if it’s the anniversary of the day someone close died? How do you deal with those dates creeping up on you? I don’t have answers. Just questions.
The first quarter of every year proves to be a challenge for me. January is filled with anticipation. The beginning of February rolls around and I feel I will be ready this time. It’s about to be a decade. There’s a nagging feeling that I should have moved on and healed by now. Each year as the start of February approaches, I learn that there’s yet another door I had closed shut to prevent myself from feeling the depths of grief. Those feelings stay hidden in boxes unattended, away in a dark attic, as if they don’t exist anymore. It’s only there if I see it, right? They fester with mold and mildew crying for attention.
February 2, 2012 was when my first daughter, Mehak, was born and March 20, 2012 was the day she left. Does it get easier? I’m not sure if easy is the right word. The feelings manifest themselves in another way and there is no way to expect what shape or form they may take that particular year.
This year I chose to stay present. In the past, I have skirted around the date trying to make myself busy in other matters. I would give myself some quiet time to think about Mehak and mention her in passing. This year I felt I wanted to be more present and consciously let the feelings in.
Being present shed light on many realizations. I recognized that I confused the date of her birthday with February 4th. Memory is fallible. Upon deeper reflection, I recalled that my husband’s friend’s wife had shared the same due date as mine. Her daughter was born two days after Mehak. Whenever I see their daughter’s pictures or hear her being mentioned, I think about how Mehak would have been her age and possibly going through the same milestones.
A very dear friend of mine has a son who was born two years later on the same date as Mehak. Each year, I would wish this lovely boy a happy birthday on a day completely different than February 2nd. It’s as if this date was a black hole. It was there, engulfing everything within its vicinity. I was not able to see it.
It also became apparent to me that February 2nd happens to be Groundhog day. It made me think about having to relive the date of her birth over and over again. How would that be? Giving birth in general is a painful process yet it’s also filled with joy. Mehak came into my life. There was pain and there was the anticipation of joy. The joy did not arrive on the day she was born. It came in little fragmented bursts along the way morphed into relief and a sense of calm. I was relieved to hear when she continued to live day after day. Despite what the Doctors had predicted, her heart continued to beat. There was hope and there was the let down of Mehak losing more of her mental capacity to function each day she spent on the ventilator. The day she passed away, I was relieved that she no longer had to be tied to an incubator with tubes going down her mouth and nose. I was relieved that she would never get sick or catch an infection. Most of all, she would no longer feel pain.
Can grief and joy coexist? This year, Mehak’s birthday fell in line with a snowstorm. We all stayed home watching the snow fall on the surface changing the whole landscape around us. We banded together as a family and each member knew it was Mehak’s birthday from the young to the old. My daughters wanted to celebrate her coming into our lives by having some cake. Rania, the five year old, often makes it a point that we are not a family of five but a family of six. Mehak has to be included regardless of the lack of her physical presence. We share a deep knowing that we will see her in the next world when it is also our time to leave this Earth.
As snow continued to fall, Rihab asked me if we will have cake for Mehak’s birthday. I nodded and said, “I miss her and I wish she was with us.” I questioned myself on why I shared my pain and grief with my eight year old. Wasn’t I supposed to shield her from it? How will this affect her? Rihab came over and gave me the warmest hug and did not say anything. I recalled how she was born in the same year as Mehak, which is a miracle in itself. The hug and silence was everything I needed. It was an acknowledgment that it hurts even after all these years and it’s OK.
Haya, the three year old, calls her Mac because she can’t pronounce her name. What does a three year old know about a sister who died many years before she herself was born? She knows that Mehak existed and still exists in our minds and hearts.
There’s an inseparable bond with Mehak reminding us that we will see her eventually. This world we live in is not our permanent abode and when it’s our time to go, we’ll come another step closer to meeting her. The fact that she came into being means that she exists. This is only a temporary separation. Till we meet her, we celebrate her by basking in the beauty of the present. We live in gratitude for having this present moment to cherish in good health and well being with our loved ones. We all watched the snow fall huddled together in memory of Mehak knowing full well that it will slowly melt away with the passage of time right before our eyes. It will exist in our memories and we’ll remember that when it raged outside, we huddled together in gratitude of having Mehak as a part of our family and we honored her memory by laughing, crying, staying silent, and releasing the emotions associated with this temporary separation.