When Our Happiest Days Are Our Griefiest

death May 21, 2023
11:59PM. It's almost time.


Growing up, we'd meet in the kitchen at midnight to mark our birthdays. It was a very informal tradition, but a tradition nonetheless: All of us-- my dad, my brother, and I-- would just so happen to stay up late the night before our birthdays, doing homework or watching TV or working, each of us doing our own thing. Then, when the clock struck midnight, we'd all slyly smile to each other as we gathered around the dinner table, bringing out the cards and gifts we'd been hiding, and the birthday girl/boy feigned humble surprise.


As we got older, this tradition turned into midnight phone calls from Dad. Sometimes I'd be at a bar, and I'd plug an ear to hear him tell me, "Happy birthday, old girl!"


Dad's been gone over three years now, but I can still hear him clearly.


When the clock struck 12:00AM on Monday night/Tuesday morning, I sat in bed looking at my phone, wondering if I'd get a call. What if this is the year the tradition stops? Maybe he forgot. Maybe he fell asleep-- it is midnight, after all.


In the darkest moments of my grief, it feels like the part of me that died when my dad died is swallowing me up. I call those really griefy moments "being in the hole." When I'm in the hole, it's like I'm alone in the darkness, and that absolutely no one remembers me, sees me, or understands me. When I'm in the hole, it doesn't matter if I'm sitting with someone I love: I still feel alone. If I'm being honest with you and with myself, I was pretty deep in the hole as my birthday got close-- and the double whammy with Mother's Day a few days before didn't help me, either. I've had a lot of hole days, lately.


In many ways, this year after my official year of grieve leave feels a hell of a lot harder than taking leave did. I'm learning how to live, every single normal day, with my grief. I'm trying not to make my grieving special, if that makes sense -- I am trying to integrate grieving into my everyday life. And it's hard.

It's especially hard around holidays….and my birthday. My grief gets magnified tenfold when it's a big day, and it's especially obvious to me that people I love are missing.


But it's ok that it’s hard. Grief is gonna keep griefing. I've learned that it's my job to see it, hear it, feel it, and give it some space.


On my birthday, I was in the hole. And that's ok.


12:01AM, and my phone rings. "Happy birthday, sister!"


I see some light outside the hole.

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