An Unexpected Birthday

Photo: I treated myself to a day at the beach. Thank God for the miracle of children being in school all day. I put two boys on the bus, shot off an email, then hit the road, on my way back to Good Harbor Beach.


Today is my birthday and it’s a bittersweet day. It marks the sad anniversary of my last conversations with my grandmother and my father. Within two weeks, Grandy would pass on from this life to the next, and Father would lose his mind, forcing me to sever my ties with him.

I woke up this morning hoping for a little hint of Grandy’s presence. A familiar scent, a warm feeling in my kitchen, a passing breeze in the house that couldn’t be explained any other way. It’s silly, I know… but I am surprised by how quickly my habits have changed. Somehow, 3pm on Sunday has collapsed into a regular hour on a regular day. Somehow, I feel like her voice and her laughter are slipping away from my inner dialogue. Not all the time. Just some of the time. More than I want. I can’t fully express how sincerely disappointed I am that I can’t feel her or see her or hear her today. How I long, deeply and truly, to have a moment of knowing she’s here with me. Even if it’s brief. Even if my logical mind laughs it off as a figment of my imagination. This is the first birthday in my entire life when there is actually, truly, something that I want more than anything that is impossible to have.

The thing about grief is that you never know when it’s going to come up and be acute. It really shouldn’t be today, but it is. I grieved today instead of celebrating myself and I can’t really offer good explanation why.

The Husband lingered a little extra long this morning. I think he was hoping for an invitation to come along for my beach day. I kept pushing him out. “You’re running late,” I kept saying. I kept reminding him of the time. He kissed my cheek and held my eyes for a moment before leaving the house. I could see his disappointment, but I really didn’t want to share.

I don’t want to share. I really don’t feel like it. I know that I should have reached out today and included him. But I couldn’t make space for him. I couldn’t make space for anyone. Doing the cake and ice cream thing with the boys tonight is going to be so hard to do. It really shouldn’t be, but it will be.

I was just with a good friend, in a place where I felt safe, and I admitted my feelings about today. I saw the pity on his face and immediately started saying, “I’m ok. It’s really ok.”

And sometimes it is. Sometimes, it isn’t. But it’s such a perfectly deceptive and easy lie, isn’t it? “I’m ok. I’m fine. Don’t worry.” Oh yes, these are assurances that everyone wants to believe: the speaker as well as the listener. It is permission for all involved to change the subject, not dig any deeper, not have to own any unpleasant feelings.

I went to the beach looking for confirmation of my “ok.” I’d like to start 33 at least “ok.” I feel like I should be trying for something more than “just ok” at 33. Again, sometimes I am. Sometimes, I’m not.

What I found was the assuring roar of the Atlantic. A sound I love more than any other sound. I cherish it the way I cherish Minor’s laughter or Major’s singing or Grandy’s “oh Lordy” after a good laugh. I found a little bit of stillness, a little bit of internal silence, though I couldn’t sustain it. I’m so out of practice. I found tears that didn’t really want to fall. They just wanted to sit on the edge between “I’m ok” and “I’m not ok,” choosing not to fall, but still make my breathing heavy at moments.

What I found at the beach was me as I am right now. Not quite so youthfully optimistic. Not broken, either. Just… not so full. Not the same.

That’s a hard thing to write because, Lord, who really wants to read that? Also, I don’t want to seem like just another moody Millennial. But I’m writing this because, again, I’ve never experienced grief before, not like this. And it surprises me. It overwhelms me. I’m amazed by its power to linger. I seem to have figured out how to function with it, but not defeat it in its entirety. Is that actually an impossibility?

I write a lot about kindness and patience because you simply never know what a kind word will do for a person. I wrote a nice Facebook message today thanking family and acquaintance alike for their being part of my year’s journey. I chatted with friends online, exchanged pleasantries with teachers as I picked up my boys from school. I’ve kissed and hugged my babies, I’ll smile warmly with my husband as he cuts the cake I bought tonight. Most of the people I have encountered or spoken with today will never know the pain I’m in today. There are many reasons for that, and that’s a necessary thing. Yet still, the kindnesses of the people I encountered today made a bit of a difference. Kindness and grace matter. I was wordlessly grateful for each of them.

One last hot day. Tomorrow, the humidity breaks and Fall returns. Hopefully the cool air will clear my head. So, see you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.

4 Comments Add yours

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Thank you, Sis! 🙂

  1. Miriam Joy says:

    I don’t really know how to respond to this post, because it gave me feelings, but I just wanted to let you know that I read it and was moved by it. Also… happy birthday? If that’s even an appropriate thing to say?

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I think it’s ok to say Happy Birthday. 🙂 It was bittersweet, but it was still a birthday. It’s good to make it around the sun again in one piece.

      I’m glad that my words moved you. I’m sorry if they made you sad, though. That wasn’t my intention.

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