Thursday, November 22, 2012

November Change (Patty Blount)

This month’s theme is “November.” I asked some friends for blog post ideas given that theme. With thanks to Jason who suggested ‘change’ and to Bill who said ‘our birthdays,’ I decided to combine the two.

November marks many changes – change the clocks, change the seasons, change the closets from summer to winter, change sports as NASCAR ends and football takes over. November is also my birthday month. Over my four decades, my birthdays changed and adapted to a lot of things… to divorce, to relocation, to marriage, to the births of my own children. And this year, my birthday will have to adjust to death. I lost my mom in April. This is the first birthday she won’t be here to celebrate and yeah, there’s a part of me that wants to skip November and never celebrate another birthday again. How do you celebrate your life when there’s a great big hole in your heart because the person who gave it to you is gone?

No freakin’ clue.

So, I’ve decided to try a little experiment. My birthday is on the 12th. I’ve written half of this blog post before that date and I’ll write the other half after.

Before

I have this friend who claims he ‘doesn’t do birthdays.’ Or, well – we used to be friends. Our friendship unraveled and the first tug on the thread was his refusal to wish me a happy birthday a few years back. Seriously, how hard is it to say two words to someone, two words that acknowledge the day you came to be? He never got how much that hurt me.

See, for me, birthdays aren’t just a big deal – they’re THE deal. I looked forward to November 12th with the same zeal I did Christmas because my mother made birthdays magical. She loved celebrating my birthday more than her own because I was her first baby. Every year, there was a party. Those parties ran the gamut from musical chairs and Pin The Tail on the Donkey to themes she used to spend hours in the library researching only because she thought it would make me happy. (It did!) She organized one at a brand new McDonald’s that opened when I was about seven or eight. They didn’t have ball pits or Happy Meals back then but I loved it and felt so special.

When I was still in single-digit years, I always woke up on the morning of my birthday to find a homemade corsage to wear to school. She used to make my corsages with her best friend using bows, ribbons, and candy. The year they used jelly beans? Yeah, not such a good idea. By the time the first bell rang, all I had left were the ribbons. The jellybeans escaped! *laughs* Oh, and of course, there was a cake every year. She used to buy a fancy chocolate one from the bakery and have the greeting written on a chocolate bar placed on top. I swear, my eyes used to roll back in my head in pure joy.

Another year, she organized a combination Halloween/Birthday party and to this day, that remains one of my favorite parties. I think it was my eleventh birthday when she asked everyone to give me a book as a gift. Heaven, I’d thought. Another year, I remember getting to choose a restaurant. I asked for Chinese food at Lum’s on Northern Boulevard in Flushing. That was so many years ago. I wonder if they’re still there?

When I grew up and left home, she always called me every year on the 12th on the exact time I was born. And she’d tell me the story she’d told me every year since my birth about the day I was born. It was a gorgeous Friday in autumn (strange how both of my children would be born on Fridays, too!), a few days after a massive black-out had crippled New York. The power was restored well before I arrived but she spent a terrifying few days fearing she’d be in the dark with a newborn.
It’s a whole bunch of years later and I don’t know if I’m in the dark or maybe the dark’s in me, but it’s hard to believe my birthdays will ever hold any magic again.

After

Well, I made it.

Happy birthday. The sentiment is sweet, isn’t it? But in the days leading up to this date, it began feeling like a directive – an order – BE HAPPY. The heart, well – it just wasn’t in it.

There’s a part of me that believes I’m not allowed to be happy anymore – that it’s restricted. I lost the only person who has and ever will love me simply because I am. I know the logic of grief – that Mom would never want this for me and I get that, I really do. But how do I stop it?

In some weird sort of parallel way, I realized I was living just like my main character, Dan, in SEND. I was going through the motions. Get up. Go through day. Stay detached. Repeat playlist. I hope to have a lot of birthdays remaining and that's NOT what I want for them. 

So here's what I did: I stopped comparing then to now. My birthday's really not so bad. In fact, it was actually pretty damn awesome.

A quick look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds on the 12th shows numerous greetings and birthday wishes – many from people I haven’t seen since my teens and still many more from people I’ve never met.  And – one of the best things ever? A birthday DM from my celebrity crush, Gilles Marini. How can ANYONE not be happy with this?

The day went on. My coworkers gifted me with chocolate cake. My guys – oh, my guys! I got extra hugs from them because they know. They get me.  My son, he was the one who called me at the precise time I was born. Then, they took me out to dinner. There are Facebook and Twitter friends who never met me and yet, know me well enough to know how insanely touched I am that they took a few seconds to type two words to me.  Some even went further than that and sent me personal messages about how they managed their own losses, their own struggles and that’s when the epiphany struck.

It hit me hard -- as epiphanies tend to do  -- that there’s room in my heart for both the grief and happiness at the same time and that's okay. As I look back over the 40-plus birthdays I can actually remember, I now see whole patterns of change -- some good, some unpleasant -- I never noticed before because I was so fixated on the traditions. Circumstances change, households change, people change and yes -- lives end. My mother may be gone, but I’m not alone. I am surrounded by people who love me differently – not less – just differently and damn if there’s not some magic in that.


*smiles* 

What kind of changes does November mark for you? If you have any advice for dealing with the loss of a parent, I could sure use it. When this post runs, it will be Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I wish for all readers a holiday filled with nothing but goodness. 

9 comments:

  1. So sorry for your loss, Patty. And happy (belated) birthday.
    It might be too soon, but some day (if you haven't already) read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It might help.

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    1. Adding Wild to my reading list, Jody. Thanks for the comment and the kind words :)

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  2. Boy did I relate to this entry. My mom and I had a special bond. We were both recovering alcoholics and for 25 years chaired each others AA anniversary meetings. After we both got sober (me at 32, Mom in her 60's) we had a completely new and amazing relationship. We were both lovers of nature and writers, so we used each other as sounding boards. When she died, two days after Thanksgiving ten years ago, it was like my world ran away and hid. It took 7 years to get back to feeling completely human and most of that time I couldn't write anything worth reading. It's better today, but it will never be the same. Happy belated birthday.

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    1. Ugh, I am SO sorry to hear but so glad you were able to share this amazing bond. Thanks for your birthday wish, too.

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  3. That's so smart: "there's room in my heart for grief and happiness." Beautiful and true.

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  4. Patty, thank you for this wise and beautiful post. Birthdays and holidays can be so difficult after a loss - but your epiphany is lovely. My best to you and happy birthday.

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    1. Thanks, Alisa. I survived my birthday and Thanksgiving. Yes, I have to put my mind to it to do so, and that's OK.

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  5. beautiful post. My birthday is close to Xmas so...instead of bringing cupcakes to school, my mom always picked out a gingerbread house. I never wanted to eat it...just save it forever. ((hugs))

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