I was just thinking about a moment I shared with my mom in my kitchen a few months before she died. My birthday was coming up and she realized it was going to be my 30th. Her jaw dropped and her eyes welled up. “I can’t believe my baby is going to be 30!” she exclaimed with a hint of sadness. I laughed at her and said, “Oh, Mom!” I remember carrying on with whatever I was doing and she just sort of stood there in shock. I didn’t stop to consider what she was thinking about. But, now I do. All the time. I assume she was thinking about me as a baby. How strange it must have been for her little girl to be nearly 30. Well, that’s sort of how I’m feeling today, on her 60th birthday. How strange it is that my adorably little mom is turning 60. Except, she’s not.
Isn’t it strange how the idea of celebrating birthdays after someone dies is tough? I mean, just because that person has passed doesn’t mean their birth isn’t something to celebrate. The problem is, you can’t celebrate together. So instead of a happy day, it is yet another reminder that they are gone. I’d like to think that if she were here, I’d tell her how much she means to me and I’d spoil her all day in celebration. I think about the lines on her face as she’d laugh, the widening of her eyes when she opens her present, and the warmth of her body as she’d hug me. All day. And while I know I think about all of that stuff for ME and how I’d feel, it is also really nice to think about making her happy. I have so much guilt and regret when it comes to our relationship so I’d rather just think about the perfect birthday for her.
So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write her a letter, for her 60th birthday, as if she were here to actually read it. And although the tears are streaming down my cheeks as I type, I’m going to imagine those laugh lines, huge eyes, and sweet hugs.
Happy birthday! I can’t believe today is your 60th! How crazy is that? I know you are probably freaking out about that number. But I just want to remind you of a few things. First, I don’t care how old you get. You’ll always be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. It cracks me up when I see you looking at your wrinkles in the mirror because when I look at you, I see the same woman I saw when I was a little girl. I love that your eyes give away how you’re feeling, even when you try incredibly hard to filter yourself. I love that you still wear purple lip liner, even though I make fun of you for it. I love that your hair is always incredibly soft. I love that sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I see you looking back at me.
I’m sure you’re also thinking about the last 60 years of your life. I know that you have many struggles behind you and it still pains you to think about most of them. You’ve felt like a failure more times than you’ve been proud of yourself. If I could gift you anything, it would be to change that. I know we had some really hard times together and I know you feel a lot of shame for that. I wish you could know how little I care about those struggles anymore. As an adult, I’ve truly forgiven you for those tough times and I don’t see you as a failure. I see you as a survivor. You really are the strongest person I’ve ever known and I hope that that strength will live in me for my entire life. Our relationship has really had some ups and downs and I know that a lot of the situations we were in were attributed to the tough past you had. I’ve never met anyone who had such a hard life and went through the things you did. Again, you feel shame for going through those times but I see them as badges of courage. I wish you could be as proud of yourself as I am of you.
Lastly, I think you are probably thinking about what your life SHOULD look like at 60. I know you sometimes feel ashamed for living with me. You want to be independent and free. Even though you don’t say it, I know you daydream about what life would be like if dad were alive and if things had been different. If the two of you were different. If you could have been happy together at this point of your lives. I want you to know that although I also daydream about that life, because every kid wants their parents to be happy together, I’m so grateful that life has brought us together in MY adult life. I am so lucky that you live here and that I get to run downstairs and see you whenever I want. That my mommy is always here for me. To laugh with, to hug me when I’m sad, and to just talk to. You’ve always said that all you want is for me to see you as my best friend and I want you to know that I do. If something ever happened to you, if I lost you, I’d lose the person I tell absolutely everything to. I don’t know what I would do without you. I’d probably fall apart.
So, those are the things I want you to think about today as you go over the last 60 years. I want you to remember that you are beautiful, incredibly strong, and so very loved. I know life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would, but here’s the thing. You always say that your biggest accomplishment, the thing you are the most proud of, is your children. And James and I could not possibly love you any more. So, let’s spend the day together, watching Lifetime movies and eating all the treats. I want you to feel so special because I know how incredibly grateful I am that I get to see those laugh lines and GIANT eyes and that I get to hug you as much as I want.
Happy birthday, Mommy. I love you deeper than the ocean and higher than the sky.