On October 6, 1985 a beautiful baby boy was born to two young, excited and quite naïve parents. It was a day worth celebrating, and for 27 years we did just that! There were McDonald’s parties, bowling parties, Mad Scientist parties, football parties, dinners of his choice. There was the anticipation of the awaited day. The birthday wish list. The party planning. The cake choices. The treats for his class. The wrapped gifts holding secrets and taunting him as they wait to be opened. Birthdays at our house are a big deal. After all, God planned the day long before we did!
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in you book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:16
However, there is another day God knows.
“Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass.” Job 14:5
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
So now October 6th is clouded by another date, April 24th. The once anticipated date now brings different emotions. I am caught off guard as I have to write it on a check or other document. I even avoid buying groceries that have it as the expiration date. The dread begins as I flip the calendar from September to October and the date literally stares me in the face. I immediately remember how Taylor loved October because it was, “the month that football and baseball overlap and the air turns cool and the leaves begin to change and it has a day to celebrate me.” I find myself thinking about the things that “could have been.” I ponder who he might have been today, and I have myself a bit of a pity party because of opportunities we will no longer have.
Today we should be celebrating his 30th birthday, yet there will be no cake, no special dinner, no wrapped gifts. Instead, we will struggle with how to honor Taylor in the midst of memories that bring both pain and laughter. We will struggle with what to do with a day full of mixed emotions. There are a few things we have learned as we have experimented over the past couple of years with the best way to make it through his birthday. Nothing that will take away the pain, but that will hopefully help to make this exceptionally difficult day a bit easier to bear.
First, it helps to plan for the day. Don’t let it take you by surprise. Plan to cry. Plan to remember. Plan to reminisce. Know that the day will be hard. Know that people won’t know what to say to you and consequently may say things you don’t want to hear. Know that others will have preconceived idea of what you should do for the day. Push aside all thought of what others think. This is your journey and no one has the right to tell you how you should grieve. So, make your own plan, whether you do something as a family, with friends, or spend time alone. Whether you take the day off or busy yourself with extra work. Even if your plan is to consciously do nothing. Make the day what you need it to be. You may have ideas of your own, but here are some things that other parents have chosen to do on birthdays.
– Write your child a birthday card to express your emotions
– Pay it forward (i.e. Go out to eat and pay for a stranger’s meal (I write on the check “In honor of our son who would have been 30 today.”) or, tip the waiter extra in the amount of your child’s age.)
– Serve their favorite meal for dinner
– Make a birthday cake anyway
– Start a new tradition
– Buy a gift and donate it to a charity
– Make a donation to a cause they supported
– Plant a tree or plant
As you walk farther into this grief journey, your plans may change. My prayer and birthday wish for you is that you may find strength as you learn to live with the grief; that you may find laughter, joy, and hope; that you may find the balance between living life and grieving; and that you will eventually find a time when birthdays bring more smiles and less pain.
30 years ago today God blessed us with a son who forever changed who I am. Even in his death, he continues to shape me. I know that he didn’t belong to us – that God gave him to us for an appointed time. I can find comfort and hope in the truth of God’s sovereignty – that God knew the number of Taylor’s years. I thank God that I had the privilege to be a part of those days. However, I wasn’t ready to give him back to his Creator. I selfishly wanted more time. Right now the birthdays hurt. So, I bow my head as the tears stain my face and I seek peace and hope in the arms of my Father God who meets me in my pain. He is the same Father God that now holds my boy and waits for our reunion. I picture the birthday celebration He must host in Heaven and it brings smiles even through the tears. It is a celebration unlike any we had on earth. One where choirs of angels sing “Happy Birthday.” (No doubt in a style and volume that Taylor would appreciate more than I!) Where football and baseball games can be played in a day with no end on pastures still green under a canopy of fall colors. Where the banquet table is full of all his favorite foods and calories don’t count. Where the birthday cake is made of brownies and you don’t need candles because all of your wishes have come true. It is a celebration to which I anxiously await my invitation. But until then, I make plans to get through this day with His help and I pray that in doing so I might point others to see our Hope and our faith.