Today is your 17th birthday and you’re not here to celebrate it. I wish I could remember all the details from the day you were born. I remember feeling impatient to have you because you were ten days late. I remember my appointment with the midwife, when she turned to me and said, “You’re going to have a baby today.” I remember hours of pain, then relief. I remember driving you home the next day, sitting in the backseat with you. I couldn’t believe you’d been entrusted to me. You were so tiny. I was afraid for you, afraid of all the harm the world could do.
Sometimes I get lost in the memories from your childhood. We have so many photos, so many captured moments. I find myself feeling jealous of the past, of the “before cancer” me and you and us. That’s when the longing rolls in, the sadness, and the incredible disbelief that you’re really gone. I wish you were here to celebrate your birthday, sweetie. I’ve never wanted anything more in my entire life.
You know what helps sometimes? When I think about the past, I realize that I’d be mourning it anyway – even if you were here. Feeling jealous of my former self makes everything so much worse. Of course, if you were alive, then I probably wouldn’t feel as distracted by the past. Thinking of your childhood, of your adolescence, of you growing into an incredible young woman, would be a little sad, but also a little comforting because I’d have you here and you’d have your entire life.
I don’t like to think of you as “forever fifteen.” Yes, your body died when you were fifteen, but what about your spirit? I like to think that your spirit is still growing, still getting older (whatever “older” means when time doesn’t matter).
I’m writing to you now, as you are, in a place I can’t reach. Maybe it’s the Summerland. That makes the most sense to me because when people tell me they’ve dreamt about you, they always describe warm sunlight, beautiful meadows, and your joy. I’ve had my own dreams too. Some are just dreams – filled with worry and stress, just like when you were sick. But there are others that feel different. In these dreams you’ve taken my hand or let me touch your face. These dreams seem like visits and you feel completely real. You are always smiling in them. I can always see your face clearly. These dreams are a gift.
Even though you’re over there where I can’t reach you, today is still your birthday. I hope you can celebrate in some way, that you do something special. This isn’t the way I’d hoped you’d spend your 17th birthday. No, of course you should be here with me. But looking back isn’t helping. Wishing for things to be different isn’t helping. Hating my life and the years ahead without you isn’t helping. All of this only makes my grief heavier. This isn’t a day I should be sad.
Seventeen years ago you came into my life and that’s a fact worth celebrating. You’re not forever fifteen.
You are forever.
Let’s celebrate this day together. I’ll look for signs and I’ll leave some for you. Happy Birthday, baby girl. I love you.