Today is my birthday. I’m forty-one.
Today is also the one year anniversary of Mom’s death.
It’s 7:20am. I’m sitting at my kitchen island, sipping strong coffee from my vast got hygge? mug, listening to the new Lumineers album. Balloons and scraps of wrapping paper and cats surround me. The girls and my hubby threw me a little morning party - apple and pumpkin donuts, homemade and store-bought gifts. I asked my guy to take a million pictures. The best were of the girls and me faux-laughing on our couch. See Evidence A above. I sent everyone off to school so I could stay home and cry.
Last year, after Mom died, I sat in her hushed bedroom and watched her clock radio turn to 3:38am. The moment I was born. She loved to tell me about my birth because it was so fast. She woke up in the middle of the night with an epic contraction and barely made it to the hospital on time. Per Mom, she was in the hospital elevator and everyone was saying to her, “Don’t push.” Each year, on my birthday, she’d call early in the morning - around this time - and say, Good morning, Maids. And then she’d begin to sing “Happy birthday.”
The child in me waits for her to call. Even today.
Two weeks before Mom died, I had a profound, dizzying intuition that she’d die on my birthday. I just knew. Much of this was selfish dread talking. Fear. I didn’t want Mom to die on my birthday, to taint it. The toddler in me was in tantrum mode. But it was more than that. It was deeper. My knowing. And then it happened. And as I sat in her bedroom at 3:38am one year ago, frantically typing notes into a document on my phone, desperate to cling to the cruel details, I told myself a story. She hung on to see me turn 40.
Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that Mom and I will always be connected in this way. She will always have died on the day I was born. My first breath will always mingle with her last. And even just a year later, there is an ineffable comfort in this fact. But there’s also a world of sadness. Sadness I must resist filtering away. Sadness that is rich and complicated and mine.
What I’m waking up to: There are no accidents. It’s not an accident that Mom died when she did. And there are other things, twinkly little bits, signs, in the fabric of aftermath. Butterflies following me down Madison Avenue, a songbird staring me in the eye and jabbering on for minutes as I sit on a bench in Central Park, a lone penny found inside my sneaker at the pedicure place. Cell phone calls coming from her number, which I’d deleted from my phone. Two daughters fracturing their hands/arms within four days, the week before the anniversary. Evidence of life and loss, of breaking and healing, of meaning, of a mysterious more.
A couple weeks ago, I sat with my middle daughter at a cafe one afternoon. I was working on my novel and she was working on her math homework. I was brainstorming the age of an important character. At the exact moment I typed 41? into my document, she looked up and said, Mama, is 41 a prime number? Oh did I smile. I keep seeing the number 41 places. Maybe this year is important. We shall see.
Today will be complicated, but it will also be good. I will have lunch with my man and go sneaker shopping and tonight, my sisters are all coming over for a beautiful feast. We will stuff ourselves and laugh and remember our beloved, brilliant, beautiful mom. I’ve promised the girls a dance party, too.
And tomorrow I will wake up to a new day. And I know something. I will be filled with relief. There’s something about getting through a year without someone you love. It’s meaningful. Big.
But the missing will continue. The missing and longing and desperate desire to understand why things have happened the way they have, what all this pain might mean, and amount to.
But sitting here, now at 7:41am, my coffee cup empty, my tears dry, another Lumineers song playing (they all sound the same!), I’m filled with knowing that I can’t rush any of this. Even though I was born rushing in that early morning forty-one years back. Time will reveal bits and pieces of truth. I will continue to heal and collect signs from the universe that will soothe me and sate me. I will continue to write messy words, wrapping paper scraps of life on birthdays and everydays.
Off to embrace this big, beautiful, impossible day.
I close my eyes. And I can hear it. The phone ringing. Her voice on the other end. A greeting. The lilt of a well-worn song. Good morning, Maids… Happy birthday to you.