Birthdays and Grief

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Last week, I began writing my book chapter titled Blowing Out the Candles: Birthday Mitzvahs. It is a fairly simple concept and I am enjoying some of the stories that are coming up. Of course, writing about birthdays has also made me ponder death and dying because they are so interconnected.

An acquaintance posted a note on Facebook during the week, feeling sad that it had been three years since her mom died and struggling with the loss she feels everyday. Many friends posted comments back to her, including one who pined for the loss of her own mother more than ten years ago. Her friend said, not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of her mother. While grief after a loss changes and evolves, it does not ever go away entirely and I personally think that is a good thing. I believe that when we think about our own mortality knowing that others will continue to carry our memory with them into the future, can be reassuring.

Last week, I also read an essay in the Oregonian by Mark T. Harris,who lost his father in a tragic car accident thirty years ago. He had finally gone back to the site of the accident, in  a small rural town in Wisconsin where his family had spent many summer vacations. The essay was eerily satisfying. I guess because he was able to finally come to peace with the immense and sudden loss in his life so many years ago. Reading about his journey helped me understand even more how lucky my loss had been.

I knew when my father died that I was lucky. I have always felt grateful of the way he died because I knew at the time that in the future I might not be so lucky with other loved ones. Having the knowledge that someone is dying and being able to be with them when they die, is certainly a gift. I am not saying that it isn’t painful and there won’t be the mourning when this happens, but I am saying that when it’s sudden and tragic it is often harder to move through the grief. There are so many more layers of emotions on top of just loss, including the what-if’s and the should haves.

I replied to my acquaintance on Facebook with this thought, that after I joined the having lost a parent “club”, I felt like it was now my job to help others who were newer to the “club”. By lending an ear or perhaps a shoulder it helped me heal as well. In the three years since my dad has been gone, I have had more honest conversations about life and death and living a full life and how much we miss loved ones who are no longer with us than ever before. Sometimes that has been difficult especially when my daughter tells people that all my mom talks about is death. I am sure that for the first several months that was what it seemed like to her. But the reality is that talking about death and sharing stories about our loss is a part of life and if in my small way, I can help someone else or share in an experience with someone else around grief than that has value for both of us!

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