Today is my mother’s birthday. Although she will never admit it, I know she loves celebrating this day. She enjoys receiving greeting cards, early morning birthday wishes, and eating a sliver of something sweet. Commemorating birthdays were a tradition in our household. Celebrations centered on the simple: hugs, grocery store-bought cake, and dinner at the birthday person’s restaurant of choice. My father, in a teenage boy kind of way, teased my mom about getting older, but cushioned that remark by stating she would always be his heart.
As I write this, tears brim in my eyes. I know that her birthday celebrations lack the same richness as in years past. My sister and I try our best to do what we can to fill that space of what was and what is, but it is not enough. Here is the truth. The most difficult part of growing older and losing your life partner is the gnawing feeling that something is always missing. My mother tries to fill that vacuous opening by talking about the past and all the memories that had my father in them.
I am amazed, though, despite the loss she harbors, she endures. It hit me in the oddest moment. I caught an interview with Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey fame, who talked about losing the love of her life. She was asked, ‘Is it lonely?’ and she replied with, “I don’t know. It seems a bit pointless. Going on one’s own and not having someone to share it with.”
As she vocalized her discontent, it pierced in my gut, because I immediately thought about my mother. I realize that there are countless times that my mother wants to hear my father’s voice, sit with him, and tell him about what churns inside of her. She lives with that longing everyday. I admire that despite this undertow of grief, she starts again, rebuilding, in the place she has landed. She still laughs, looks forward to her phone calls with her granddaughter, and enjoys cooking, listening to music, and watching her favorite Indian soap opera on her I-Pad. She stumbles and we sometimes argue about how I feel about some of her choices. I am guilty of forgetting how much courage it takes her to start over again after she shared forty-eight years with my father.
Thank you mom for showing me what strength looks like. I love you. Happy Birthday.