A New Kind of Birthday
Tomorrow is my grandmother’s birthday and it’s the first year she won’t be here to celebrate it. She was 86 when she passed away last December. Even though she’d had health challenges for the last 2-3 years of her life, the real end happened suddenly and dramatically over the span of one blur of a weekend in an Asheville hospital, when we watched her vital signs fall away to nothing and held hands around her and braced for that second when her heart finally stopped. It was like witnessing a ship sink and the moment when the vessel you know so well slips away forever.
Now we’ve arrived at her birthday, soon to be followed by the anniversary of her death, and those two dates add a blanket of loss to the season. The specter of the big holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s – approach like trucks in the fog.
I’ve thought about her a lot over the past year. I miss all of the conversations we used to have on the phone when she’d check in—those are gone. It’s been hard to handle the silence. Her name is still on the caller ID, so when it rings and I see “Nanny Home,” I know it will be my grandfather. My lost, sad grandfather who’s a different man now.
People like to think of their deceased loved ones as somewhere else, always in a better place. My disbelief system prevents me from placing her in some kind of heavenly, eternal setting. I can’t believe it so I can’t conceive of it either, as much as I would like to. Believe me, there are times that I crave some kind of sign from her, a signal, just a brief passing feeling or glimpse of something, or an audible sound, a wisp, footsteps anything, but to me she’s just gone. The promise of seeing her again in another incarnation is off this table and so is the comfort that such a thought would bring.
For her birthday I plan on doing all the little things she liked me to do, whenever I’d see her, the small requests, her sweet preferences, no matter how insignificant.
- I will sport a preppy shirt, tuck it in, and wear a belt
- I will be polite to everyone I meet
- I will pitch in and help out wherever I can
- I will shave my stubbly face
- I will floss, maybe twice in a row
- I will clean every plate I face
- I will pick up a Bible and try to find something she would’ve liked
- I will vacuum the floor of my car
- I will find a rerun of The Love Boat/Fantasy Island/The Carol Burnett Show/Hee Haw and cover up with a blanket and miss her commentary
- I will fuss over my kids, her great-grandchildren, and savor them like she did
- I will bring her back to life through memory and honor her through small gestures
- I will miss her