Thoughts On a Birthday

My birthday is coming again. The knot in my stomach growing just a little each day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my birthday. I always make it a point to do something every year to celebrate, even if it’s just spending time with Atticus and the kids. This year, it falls on Ash Wednesday, so the celebration is today and tomorrow. Today I’m taking the afternoon off for a massage and time to work on a writing project. Tomorrow we’re celebrating with some Cajun food for Mardi Gras. I’ll open a few small gifts, most notable of which, the one Maggie has been furtively working on since yesterday. I am so eager to see what her creative little mind had come up with.

All this is joy, and there is a lot of joy and gratitude surrounding my birthday. I am so happy to be alive, and so grateful to my brave mother for taking the risk to give me life, despite her poor health. I will be forever grateful for her courage and bravery. Of course I have to be grateful, and when I look around and see this family that would not exist if I did not exist, I overflow with gratitude.


Beautiful humans who wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Valerie Ruth

Along with joy and gratitude is sadness that I can’t spend time with the woman who gave me life as part of the celebration. Not even a phone call across the miles. They haven’t yet created a phone that can reach the dead. I’m also approaching the surreal fact that next year on my birthday, I will be as old as my mother was when she died. And the year after? I’ll be older than my mother. At 33, I’ll be older than my mother. My life will have eclipsed hers, and will continue to do so as I celebrate February 18 each year. I’m only beginning myself to process what this means for my identity and how I’ll react when it becomes reality.

Though my mother has been dead for 24 years, and the in this grief there is ebb and flow, around my birthday, it flows. And I smile anyway. I force myself to have fun and laugh anyway. I lean into the pain that often accompanies being alive, and let it flow through me while I’m with those I love. This too shall pass, and after the pain, grace.

This poem by Mary Oliver captures this process of holding grief and life in tension, so perfectly. For my mother.


Mary Oliver

That time

I thought I could not

go any closer to grief

without dying

I went closer,

and I did not die.

Surely God

had his hand in this,

as well as friends.

Still, I was bent,

and my laughter,

as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.

Then said my friend Daniel

(brave even among lions),

“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it–

books, bricks, grief–

it’s all in the way

you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,

put it down.”

So I went practicing.

Have you noticed?

Have you heard

the laughter

that comes, now and again,

out of my startled mouth?

How I linger

to admire, admire, admire

the things of this world

that are kind, and maybe

also troubled–

roses on the wind,

the sea geese on the steep waves,

a love

to which there is no reply?

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  • Christina

    Sarah – This is a beautiful reflection. I will pray for you as you approach this anniversary. My dad was 35 when he passed rather suddenly and it was a difficult walk for me when I turned 35. It is also difficult for me when my children turn 11 as it is a reflection of what I was like when he died. It is so hard! I hope you have a wonderful birthday celebration with your beautiful family!

  • schneiderjess

    My husband experienced similar emotions when he hit the age his mother had been when she was diagnosed with cancer. I suspect in a few years it will also be impactful. Prayers for you and birthday blessings!

  • eysaint

    Praying you have a wonderful birthday!

  • Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

    So beautiful and so painful. Praying for you and hoping it’s as good as it can be!

  • Amanda

    Happy Birthday to you! You have such a beautiful and insightful heart! The poem is expresses grief so well. I’m praying for you today! To be held, loved, and filled with Joy celebrating wonderful you today!

  • motherhoodandmiscellany

    Happy belated birthday! You share a birthday with my oldest daughter, who turned six this year :) I hope it was a happy day for you, even in your grief. Blessings to you, Sarah.

  • Pat

    Thank you for writing and for sharing your story.