What’s a mother to do on the day of her child’s birth when that child is no longer alive?
Yesterday was Jennifer’s birthday; she would be 38 years old. She died in 2002, and I’ve had 16 years remembering her birthday without her.It’s taken me a few years to learn what helps me on these days of remembrance, but some years it creeps up on me. I’m sure I don’t want to go to the cemetery and sit by her grave. I find that going to her grave makes me incredibly sad, and I don’t need a reminder to be sad. Larry and I seldom go to the cemetery, but we understand that it can bring comfort to some.The first year after Jennifer died I filled the days around her birthday with meeting friends for dinner and going to a bridal shower for Jennifer’s roommate. Even though I was dreadfully sad those days, the morning after her birthday I didn’t think I could get out of bed. I experienced a depression that physically knocked me back to bed. I struggled at school all day, finally put a note to my students on the board: “Yesterday was Jennifer’s birthday.” They were so good, and we made it through the day somehow. But the next day, I knew I needed help. I’d never felt so despondent, feeling nothing. I saw my family doctor and began taking a prescribed anti-depressant. I realized that this exhausted feeling was not just being tired; it was depression, similar to the feeling I had after my mother died several years ago.Each year following I knew I should take a personal day from school. I did not trust myself to be able to teach. Depression could sap all my energy, and I needed every bit of energy when teaching 8thgraders. I let my students know ahead of time that I would not be at school on the day of Jennifer’s birthday. They were always interested in what I planned to do. Early in the school year I gave my students a brief summary of Jennifer’s death. By doing so I could occasionally refer to something she did or how she earned a college scholarship when it fit with our discussion. I hesitated to share her story at first; it felt like I did it for my benefit, but I eventually learned that my students connected with my grief. Their lives were not the typical middle class family of two parents with steady jobs, living in the suburbs. They were all too familiar with trauma or grief or violence, and they could relate to what had happened to me.I usually make a specific plan for November 17th. Some years I met a friend who has traveled this journey with me, and we would have lunch together. Other times I visited someone in need or went to a peaceful garden in town. One year my friends gathered to make cookies to send to soldiers in Iraq as a way of remembering the many ways Jennifer served others. Larry has faithfully tuned in to what I need throughout this journey of grief and knows that recalling memories are not helpful to either of us. I need a distraction, just doing something a little different helps.This year marks the end of a long journey writing a book about my grief. My Girlfriend Circle met Friday night to celebrate the book and remember Jennifer. These five friends have been with me through dark days and through healing. We knew each other when our children were pre-schoolers and though we live in different parts of town we make the effort to see each other.I thank God for their love and encouragement.