Sunday, December 6, 2009

Birthday Girl Grown Up

Yesterday was a day of firsts.

Until yesterday, I had never woken up in Nashville and went for a run around the Grand Old Opry. I’d never watched my Gazelle run in a national cross country event and I’d never been so happy for my Sweetness, Matthew, whose writing was on display back in Columbia.

Until yesterday, I’d never turned 38. And until yesterday, I had never celebrated my birthday without my mom.

Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the “first” holiday season without mom. In my family, the holiday season has never just included Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. It is also our birthday season. I was born on December 5, 1971 and went home from the hospital three days later – on December 8th, my mom’s birthday.

As an adult, I never got tired of hearing the story about the night my mother went into labor with me. She had her first hint of labor in the evening, went to the hospital around 9 and I was born at 1:09. After we made it through my teenage years, she joked that raising me was almost as easy as giving birth to me.

The truth is that raising me was anything but easy.

At 26, my mom celebrated her birthday on a bitter cold day taking her second child home from the hospital. She never said so, but it must have been bittersweet. It was my grandpa who carried me into the house – his house. Divorced, pregnant and alone, my mother was forced to humble herself and had moved in with my grandparents. Despite my grandfather’s initial disappointment with her pregnancy, mom said my grandpa was smitten with me from the first moment he saw me. It was a feeling that would soon be mutual. My grandpa was my first hero.

In spite of all these less-than-ideal circumstances, mom always said I was the best birthday gift she ever received.

Eventually we moved out on our own and life went on. But as the years passed and things changed, one thing remained consistent – we always celebrated our birthdays together. As an adult, I came to realize that these days were especially meaningful because they brought a quiet celebration of life. I believe my mom celebrated my life – my happiness, my family and my faith – that brought her overwhelming joy and an incredible sense of accomplishment. I celebrated mom’s life as a symbol of selfless dedication and tireless love. She gave birth to me, raised me alone and later was willing to share me with my dad. Her conquering strength in the midst of her fear reminds me that she overcame difficult challenges that I’ve never had to even imagine.

Although her body left her weak, my mom was a pillar of strength and love. It’s her legacy, one that lives in me, my children and hopefully all who knew my mother. I felt my mother’s joy in yesterday’s events. I thought of her as I felt the warmth of the sun on my face as Tom and I were running. I took joy knowing she would be so happy Prince Charming and I were enjoying the promise of the new day together. I yelled extra loud as my Gazelle ran a personal best, knowing her Grandma was willing her to the finish line from heaven. And I thanked God and talked to my Sweetness about accomplishments that don’t come easy, making their success all the sweeter.

Today I was reminded that mom’s life may have come to an end but the beauty she left behind is magnificent. It was a great day filled with birthday wishes and the making of new memories.

As we grow older, we often do or say things that cause us to realize we are turning into our parents. According to this letter I received yesterday, I guess that’s true for me too. And on my first birthday without my mom, it brings me happiness and peace.

Happy Birthday! I hope that today is wonderful and a real joy. I know it won’t be the same without Grandma here, but like you said, it’s part of our new routine and so it will get easier.

But today, without Grandma, I want you to know you make things easier. My Grandma is gone yes, but you are almost a “spitting image.” No, you don’t make every church dinner, wash my grapes separately or wash my tennis shoes every time I go outside. But those are grandma things that I would only ever expect my Grandma Vi to do. But in other ways I see her, through you. When I tell you I got an A on a test and you yell for joy and look at me like I’m the prettiest star in the sky. That is Grandma through and through. When I’m sick and you call every thirty minutes to make sure I’m drinking liquids, I can only help but smile.

You care for your church just like Grandma, always trying to make a difference in some one else’s life. You seem to be the one all of your friends go to when they are experiencing something tough or difficult and need advice, love, and the promise of a prayer. I’m pretty sure that was Grandma too, because that phone was ALWAYS ringing!!

You are loving, kind and gentle. I love you and I know you love me more than words can describe. You are my role model, the one I wish to follow. Thank you. Because you are beautiful in every way.


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