It is just a few days until what WOULD have been my sister’s birthday. This year will mark the third birthday that she won’t have since her death.
Some days are harder for me than others when it comes to missing my sister. The hardest, by far, is her birthday. On what would have been her birthday, her death seems particularly unfair. On what would have been her birthday, the ache I feel at not being able to hear her voice is particularly strong. On what would have been her birthday I cannot help but wish for what could have been. As the day of her birth comes closer, I can feel the cloud of sadness that I can usually keep to a manageable size begin to grow beyond my control. Each day it is a little darker, a little heavier. I think more. I remember more.
Here is the thing that I find particularly challenging about my sister’s birthday. I have not yet found the way to honour it. Even though I thought I knew exactly what I would do before she died. At one point a few months before her death, my sister told me something a person in a class she was taking had told her. He explained that many years ago (before he could remember) he had an aunt who died, and that every year on her birthday, the whole family got together and had a party in her honour. Then he said “Roxanne, we have never forgotten her.” I could tell this story meant a lot to Roxanne, and I thought “I can do that!”
This was when I formed my vision for “Rox-mus,” the celebration which would henceforth be celebrated on Roxanne’s birthday. I told Roxanne all about it. I told her that on her birthday I would have people over for dinner, people that were new friends or that I didn’t know well, in honour of her. Because she LOVED making new friends and she LOVED making people feel special and she LOVED having people over for dinner. I told her that we would give gifts in her honour, to people we thought would just like a present, because she LOVED giving presents. We would have a day to remember who she was and we would never forget her. She was already near the end when I told her this, but she laughed and smiled through her pain. I knew she loved it. And I had every intention of doing it.
Then I got to the first birthday after her death, and I realized something.
I couldn’t do it.
I was too sad. I was too overwhelmed. I was not ready to host a party. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“Maybe next year,” I thought. “Roxanne will understand if I wait a year.”
Then the next year came. And, once again, I couldn’t do it. We DID go out to dinner – to a restaurant she loved – and I made a very solid effort to talk about Roxanne and tell her niece and nephew about how great she was. But every time I talked I started to cry. It was not a happy dinner. I was relieved I hadn’t invited anyone else!
Now here we are at year three. And, once again, I’m not making any plans. The difference is that this year I know and understand that it’s okay.
I know that I told my sister I would. I know that she loved the idea of “Rox-mus” and that it has all the potential of a great event. I also know that her birthday is not the day that I can do it. And I know – I know to the bottom of my heart – that my sister would have understood.
She would have understood that I didn’t know what grief would be like back when I painted my grand vision of how I’d spend her birthday. She would have understood that I made a promise I couldn’t keep.
I talk to a lot of grieving people, and I know that with grief often comes guilt. Guilt about how we should do things. About unrealistic promises we made (sometimes even demanded by our loved ones who didn’t understand what they were asking of us!). I write this today to say that I understand the guilt. And, friend, I understand that there is a time to let it go. To grieve as YOU need to. To be as very sad as you need to be until the cloud begins to lift again.
I will not be celebrating Rox-mus this year. It does not mean I won’t remember her birthday. I know I will think of little else. But I won’t have a party – not on that day.
There will be other days to have people over for dinner, just like she did. Other times to give gifts generously, just like she loved to do. So many other days that work for me to do “Rox-mus.”
What I told Roxanne that day that I made my unrealistic promise that I think really made her smile was this: “You will never be forgotten.” That promise, I now understand, is one that does not take a party to keep.
Happy Birthday, my very impossible-to-forget sister…