May 06, 2015
Do They Celebrate Your Birthday When You’re Gone?
It took nearly thirty years to lose someone I was very close to. That’s not to say I haven’t lost members of my family, but no one was closer than me and my Grandma. As Forrest Gump said, we was like peas and carrots.
Three years ago this March, she died. Tomorrow is her birthday.
Wait, tomorrow was her birthday? Or is it tomorrow will be her birthday?
Part of the emotional coping kit that it took me so long to build was dealing with birthdays of the deceased. When you think about it, a birthday doesn’t really make sense, does it? Birth is the beginning, birthdays celebrate the return of that event, and death marks the end. So does having one negate the other?
Being Jewish, we have an option – the Yahrzeit. It’s like the opposite of a birthday, but at it’s core, it’s a special time to remember those who are gone on the day they left. The opposite of a birthday.
That’s nice and everything, but I don’t need a special day to remember my Grandma. I think about her every day. I feel a little ping at 10pm when I used to call her (very nearly daily). Whenever something great happens, I’m torn apart that I can’t tell her. Likewise, I can’t turn to her to console me when I have a bad day. I go places she would have liked, read books she’d have enjoyed, or watch movies that she would have wanted to see. Grandma would have loved the finale Newsroom – she was always a Sorkin fan.
I want to celebrate her birthday. I want to hear her retell the story of her birth (a Roger family tradition). I want to anxiously wait for her to take the first bite of cake before the rest of us eat. I have no idea what I’d get her this year, but she’s be thrilled to have it. Begrudgingly, I’d have a cup of coffee – because if she’s the only one who wanted a cup, she’d pass. She could play my cousin in gin like she used to play me, although she wouldn’t have to let her win as she did me. It’d be a really fun Wednesday.
Instead, I’ll go to work. I’ll look at a picture of her that I have near my desk, and be both sad and happy at the same time. I’ll remind myself that she didn’t suffer when she died, and how it could have been so much worse for her. I will try my hardest to forget the day she realized she wasn’t choosing not to drive, but instead really couldn’t any longer, and the pain in her eyes at the loss of her independence. I will think about the last time I talked to her, the last time I saw her. And I’ll wonder where she is now.
I still remember leaving the hospital after she died. It was really sunny that day. I took her cane for some reason, and kept it. I remember feeling like my entire world had just ended, yet everyone else kept on. The receptionist smiled at me as I left. She had no idea, and how could she? Why would anyone who wasn’t in the room with us know? We hadn’t called anyone yet. We just left. What more was there do? The last thought on my mind was what we do on her birthday.
So after all that, I don’t know. Logically, it doesn’t make sense to celebrate the birthday of someone who has died. Emotionally, it doesn’t make sense to skip it. Religiously, it’s seems it’d be superseded by the Yahrzeit.
I don’t need special demarcations to think of Grandma. But I didn’t need them when she was alive, either.
Happy Birthday, Grandma.