Birthday 2020

Maybe I’m used to missing Sam on his birthday. I’ve been missing him for the last thirteen years. But I’m not used to missing his mother. For eleven of those years, I talked to Sam’s mother on his birthday, and it is not the same without her. Today, I miss her.

This is what my grief looks like. It’s the pang of not being able to call my mother-in-law, not hearing her laugh, not repeating myself – loudly and slowly – in as much Spanish as I can bludgeon with my American accent. It’s the pain of not hearing her tell me how proud she is of me and all four of my sons, how proud Sammy would be. It’s the silence of not hearing her say – in English and in Spanish – that she loves me.

I believe that the work of therapy – and make no mistake, it is work – is to become an expert in my own grief, to notice the places where it hurts, to change what doesn’t serve me, to honor the beautiful, tender, vulnerable places in my heart. To honor the glitchy grouchy wounded places, too. To put some distance between me and the habits that are not in my best interests. To let go of the things – and regrettably, there are entirely too many – that I cannot control. And then to let go of the resentment surrounding the fact that I would make a much better plan than Whoever-Is-In-Control-Of-Planning (or whoever is asleep at the wheel) or whatever. To nurture, with kindness and courage, the budding new skills and perspective. To be patient with the fact that some days demand chips and salsa for dinner. Or ice cream. I go straight to the freezer; I do not stop at the farmer’s market. I will eat kale another day.

Today requires dark chocolate and a glass of something red and bold. Any greens will be in the form of mint or pistachio ice cream. Or possibly guacamole to go with the salsa.

I will draw my grief a hot bath, or take her for a long walk, or put her to bed early. Or all of the above. We will settle into our cadence of grief: inhale, exhale, repeat. I will remind myself that grief is the price we pay for loving wholeheartedly, and just because I pay the price willingly does not mean it doesn’t hurt. It does.

I will bring out a favorite picture, a portrait in black and white, from when my mother-in-law was newly engaged to my father-in-law. She’s a beauty.

I will think about the times she introduced me as her daughter, “the blondie,” even though I’m more gray than blonde these days. I will remember the day the family sat around the table chatting after brunch and the ensuing nipple-piercing conversation with abuela that sent all the men reeling and running from the room. Abuela and the rest of us girls dissolved into laughter, the kind of laughter that echoes through the house and sends tears rolling down our cheeks even years later.

The grief comes and goes in waves, and the love remains. It takes a winding way, but I find my way home to the love. Always, the love.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And the love.

Dear Sam

Dear Sam ~

Just a little note to let you know we’re thinking of you extra today. You are often in our thoughts and conversations, of course, and tonight we will go to one of your favorite restaurants and raise a glass in your honor, as we do every year on your birthday.

You would be proud of your sons. They are smart, funny and hard-working. They are kind and compassionate. They are grateful and faithful. And really tall. Both are taller than I am, and the so-called little one will likely catch you by about Wednesday of next week at the rate he is eating.

Don’t worry – they’re also normal teenage boys. They leave their crap all over the house, their table manners could benefit from an immersion cotillion weekend, and they think I don’t know when they’re only pretending to do homework. Whenever I hear comments featuring the words “talks too much” during parent-teacher conferences, I blame you entirely.

The kids and I were recently having a “discussion” about doing their own laundry, and they enjoyed hearing that early in our marriage, you turned my favorite cream-colored blouse a pretty light blue. I’m still not quite sure how you managed that, but then I never let you do laundry again. For years, I thought you were the stupid one. But after we had been married 10 years, I realized that you hadn’t done a stitch of laundry in, well, 10 years. More often than not, you were the Ricky to my Lucy. I should have known that pale blue blouse was a clever trick.

In the last few months, both of them have mentioned that they wished you had spoken Spanish with them. I smiled, and told them that you and I had a difference of opinion on this particular issue. And so I say to you now – as any well-adjusted and mature adult would do – “Neener, neener, neener. I was right!” I will also tell you that they can both roll their R’s, even though you never could, and I gleefully take all the credit. But since the gringa is helping them with their Spanish homework, perhaps you are having the last laugh. Maybe you could just whisper a few vocab words in their ears, because the so-called little one has a quiz today.

If this doesn’t seem too weird to say out loud, you would be so happy that Tim has come into our lives. He is good to me, and he loves those boys as his own. You would be pleased at how all of our collective sons have opened their hearts to each other. They are a puppy pack, those four. They wrestle and flop and growl and wag. We are blessed beyond measure.

I guess I really just want to let you know that we are doing well. We have joy and laughter and faith. We are grateful for this day you were born, grateful for the time we had you in our lives. We miss you, but we still feel your love. And we love you.

Happy 50th, Sam.