Watching a friend experience the loss of their baby and the grief that remains can feel so helpless. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach to support a grieving friend through loss, but there are many ways to be supportive. When my daughter died at 33-days-old, it was the first loss of this type…
How I Celebrate My Daughter’s Still Birthday
I am quite sure that this would have been a Wonder Woman year. Unless, of course, all of her friends had planned Wonder Woman birthday parties, too. Then we’d choose fairies, maybe, or unicorns. Or we’d decide to include all female superheroes. Pinterest has us covered either way. In any case, there would certainly be balloons, streamers, games, cake, and presents…all of the usual kid birthday elements. Her still birthday is in the summer, so maybe there would have been sprinklers and water play. There definitely would be laughter, children running around, a few accidentally spilled drinks, maybe even some skinned knees or dinosaur tears. At the end of the day, we’d collapse in a heap on the floor to play with her new toys and talk about what a fun day it was. I can’t help but imagine how it would be if she were here.
It is her still birthday after all. She would be 6.
Still her birthday. Her still birthday. What a difference the order of words makes.
Still Her Birthday
I hear the surprise in friend’s voices when I mention that I still celebrate her birthday. It’s a good kind of surprised, mostly, as in, “it’s so wonderful that you are still celebrating it.” I can’t imagine treating it like any other day of the week, though…going to work and the grocery store, sitting in traffic, making small talk. Trying to focus on other things on the anniversary of a day that changed my whole life forever would be impossible. I would be a total wreck. Trust me, no one wants me at work on my daughter’s birthday.
Celebrate may not be exactly the right word, though. I honor it. I remember it, and her. It is still her day. There is an aura of sacredness about it, and my only rule is that I spend it someplace beautiful. Someplace I would love to have been able to bring her in more than just spirit. A place I can really take in the good, you know? Somewhere I can breathe and laugh and cry, and really feel all the feelings…well, freely.
Cake, Candles, and Tears
On the first anniversary of my daughter’s still birthday, I stayed home. I made a cake. It was a Julia Child’s recipe, full of butter and homemade frosting, and topped with strawberries. It was something I would have made if she were here, homemade and wholesome. We sang happy birthday, and I cried too hard to eat the cake. With all that butter, you’d think it would’ve melted in my mouth, but it felt like crumbly sandpaper. I couldn’t swallow through the tears and the giant lump in my throat.
Some parents plan a still birthday party every year, and really do it up right, with cake and balloons and everything. I really wanted that to be my thing. I truly did. To do all the things I would have done for her, just as if she were here. As I sobbed through the song and the frosting, though, feeling her absence so acutely, I knew I could never do that again. For me, it was just too hard to try to create all the birthday memories I wanted to make with her in her absence.
My Week in the Woods
Since then, the week spanning from her due date to her birth date has become a retreat for me, my “week in the woods.” Each year has been a little different, but all have been variations on the theme of a day filled with beauty. Anne Frank said, “Think of all the beauty still left around you, and be happy.” Every year, I give that my best effort. Nature is my sanctuary, the place I go to heal, so for me, it’s the best place to spend the anniversary of her stillbirth.
One year, I spent her still birthday floating on a lake, soaking up the sun, and visiting with an old friend. It was mellow. We barbecued in the evening and enjoyed the simplicity of a day well spent. The next year, and the one after that, I spent the week at an all-inclusive hot springs retreat, a place I lovingly refer to as a “hippie resort.” Free yoga classes, home-cooked meals with fresh from the garden ingredients, and hours of soaking in the mineral pools reminded me how good it feels to just relax. I have spent her last few still birthdays at a friend’s cabin in the woods in the shadow of Mt Rainier. Still basically off the grid, but a bit closer to home.
It Will Always Be Her Day
There is no cake or candles, no balloons, and no choked up happy birthday singing. Usually, there is hiking, picnicking, and deep breathing. There is always remembering. I think, “what would I do if Zoë were here,” and I do that. It will always be her day.
How do you celebrate your child’s anniversary dates?
Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash