Celebrating A Beautiful Life

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A child’s birthday is about relishing in the gift of  their life on Earth…an opportunity to lavish them with affection and declare our sentiments.  Unlike other holidays, it’s a day solely devoted to one particular child marked with traditions, ceremony and celebration.  We marvel at how quickly the years have passed and reflect on who they have become.

In celebrating, we also ring in another year of life.  We look forward to all of the milestones that await and imagine who our child will be in five, ten, or even twenty years.  Will she go to college, marry, and have children?   Will there be a house full of cousins and grandchildren some day?  Or will she feel called to religious life?

But when your child’s life on earth ends abruptly, birthdays take on a whole different meaning.  Instead of something you enjoy planning and celebrating, your child’s birthday becomes something you survive and a painful reminder that there will be no more birthdays.

Evie would have been 12 tomorrow (August 7th).  Now, in the pictures, she is forever eleven.

This year, there will be no more breakfast with Daddy and dancing to their favorite song.  No more birthday hugs.  We can’t ask her how she wants to celebrate or watch her open up her gifts.

I have been dreading Evie’s birthday since the day she died.  I never imagined that last year at this time we would be celebrating her last birthday on earth.  I’ve kept the above picture on my phone as a way of preparing myself for the inevitable.  My thoughts have been consumed with how we will celebrate her life differently this year and I’ve shed countless tears.  In talking with other bereaved parents and reading about how they celebrate the birthdays of their deceased children, I’ve come across varied responses.  Some have parties to honor their child or visit the cemetery and have a special meal.  Others prefer to lock themselves in their room.  I desperately want to do something to honor her beautiful life but I know that no matter what, it’s going to be painful.

In our case, August presents an even greater challenge because it is a month of celebrations.  Eden’s birthday is the 9th and the girls always celebrated together.  Cecilia’s birthday is also in August as well as my brother who passed away.  That’s not to mention other family birthdays that occur this month in addition to our anniversary of becoming Catholic and Eden’s baptism day.

A big part of me wants to crawl in a hole and come out in September.

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays…they will never be the same without her.  Celebrations that I used to look forward to have become a source of dread.  When you lose a child, the year feels like a relentless cycle of holidays, parties and events.  I find myself looking forward to a month with nothing on the calendar.  I guess I’m not in a very celebratory mood these days.

But I still live on earth and I’m still a mother.  My kids aren’t going to let me skip all of these special days and escape to a deserted island no matter how badly I might want to.

That does not mean, however, that I need to win an award for the most amazing birthday party or cake.   I’m not required to put on a happy face and pretend like I am not hurting inside.   A birthday doesn’t necessitate that I post pictures on Facebook of all of us having a good time amidst piles of presents, guests, and sugary treats in an attempt to veil the sorrow of missing a huge part of my existence.  It seems that sometimes we get so caught up in the celebration that we forget the reason behind the ritual.

Evie absolutely adored family traditions and she loved to celebrate…but not in a way typical of some children.  She enjoyed marking the days, but her way of doing so was quite simple…a few hand-picked flowers in a Mason jar, a homemade card with words of love, a hug.  Although she had many friends she never wanted to be the center of attention.  She was quite happy to have everyone at the party bring a donation to charity rather than a gift.  Her favorite celebrations were those that revolved around the liturgical year and the saints.   Usually, when asked what gift she would like for her birthday or Christmas, her list was pretty simple and/or generally related to her faith.  Her most recent gift request, before she died, was her very own tea set to use for hosting saint feast day parties.  Just this past October, before she passed away, she held a tea party for St. Thérèse complete with roses and store-bought chocolate eclairs.  Before that, she asked for a guitar so that she could learn praise and worship songs.  She was getting quite good at playing those.

So this year, I’m taking a cue from her.  I’m going to simplify the celebrations and focus on  drawing my family closer to the great heavenly feast that awaits those who love Jesus.  Because instead of fretting over party-themed foods, gifts, and decorations, the reason for the rituals  should compel me to look deeply into the eyes of my children on their birthday and tell them how much they mean to me, how much Jesus loves them, and what a gift He gave me when they entered my world.  Special days beckon me to stand at the foot of the cross and embrace my faith in a God who heals our brokenness and holds our future in His hands.  I can thank God for the gifts He has given us on Earth  while also allowing my pain and heartache to be evident.

Because you can hold pain and hope at the same time.  Jesus did just that when he wept over the death of His friend Lazarus even as he walked toward his tomb to raise him to new life.

On Evie’s birthday this year, we will attend mass together as a family where Heaven and Earth collide in a feast of love.  We will eat Poppyseed Chicken Casserole and Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake (her favorites).  We will share memories with her closest friends.  But most importantly, we will tell her what a beautiful, loving, compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and simply extraordinary daughter she was and how very proud we are of who she became in eleven short years.  And although we cannot see Evie’s beautiful, slightly crooked smile when we declare these things, we know that she hears us.

Although her absence from our lives is beyond painful, I wouldn’t take back a second of our time with her.  I thank God for every moment I was privileged to have as her earthly mother as I  entrust her now to her Heavenly Mother.   And I will continue to mother her by loving Jesus and others until the day of our heavenly reunion in a place where every day is a tearless celebration of Life.

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Celebrating A Beautiful Life

  1. What a beautiful soul she was and is. You are a good mother. I’m so sorry for the heavy cross you must carry. Your words help me in my own vocation as a mother. I think I will begin asking Evie to intercede for my own small children.

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  2. Jen I so enjoy reading your writings! You speak from the heart and I believe you are helping others with the healing process! It is so painful losing a loved one let alone a child! We also are feeling the pain of missing Evie and her sweet smile and loving caring way! Continuing to pray for all of you especially this month with so many birthdays and special occasions!! We love you all!

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  3. Dear Jen,
    Thank you, again, for sharing your heart with us. Everything you write touches me deeply…this one, especially. I am forwarding it to a dear friend who’s son (a twin) died 2 years ago August 25th.
    They just “celebrated” his/their birthday last Thursday and I know it, like every occasion and celebration, is an agonizing reminder that Lucas is not here.
    I know your words will be precious to them and I thank you for the opportunity to share it with them.
    Your friend in Christ,
    Debby Bentivegna

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  4. Jen, your family is a beacon of light, shining Christ’s love here on earth. Your example and life fully of hope, faith and yes, suffering, provide all of us a focus and centered reminder of how we should live for his glory and our ultimate gift of heaven. I wish I could give you a big hug and thank you. I pray specially for you family and intercession of Evie.

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  5. Been thinking about you all a lot here this month of August – so many special dates. Your words are so deeply moving for me in my parenting journey and i long to embrace the pain and hope as you mentioned. May God confine to bless you with words that flow freely to bring healing and hope to both you and all who read them. Much love dear Friend! 💜

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  6. I am thinking of Evie and praying for you all. She was fun and competitive and generous – I remember the memory games we would play at co-op – she always wanted to win, and she knew her stuff! But she was generous with the glory that came with winning, too. She and Bee made such a good team, we often would split them up so the other team would have a chance. She was fun and funny, and I ask for her intercession daily – for my family, and for yours. Happy Heavenly Birthday, sweet Evie!

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  7. Dear Jen,
    Thank you for sharing your heart with all of its sorrow and love. From your writings and all that my dear Ahlaina, Brenna, and Kathleen have told me, I truly believe your sweet Evie is our special saint in heaven. I have asked asked for her intercession many times.
    My prayers continue for you and your family.
    Happy birthday to your precious Evie!

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  8. Jen, I wasn’t sure when Evie’s birthday was, but it has been on my mind the last couple days so I have been praying for those moments. So you know the Good Lord is attending to your pain and gratiously allowing our humble participation in small scattered ways and places. Evie, I can tell you, is still giving, still having mercy on the less lovable among us, and still eagerly accepting my frequent calls for help just as she did when she still suffered the pains of this world. What an unspeakable blessing to have one child you know has won the race. For you and the ones you still have to worry about, we are always praying, especially this week for Eden. She will always have her special advocate, I just pray she can always remember that.
    With hugs, tears, and much love,
    Janice

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  9. Pingback: Fortune Cookie Faith | All Saints Farm

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