Thursday, December 26, 2013

A few years ago, we spent my birthday in a hotel.
A hotel with an elevator.
The kids were fighting over who would get to push the buttons.
Over and over and over.
Each time we rode the elevator.

So on my birthday, I announced that for my birthday, the only gift I wanted was to be allowed to push the elevator button. All day long.

And it was granted. (Other parents reading this may understand the fullness of the joy of this gift.)

The next day, we got into the elevator. I reached for the button, clearly forgetting that my birthday was over.

Sam pushed my hand away and disdainfully said, "It's not your birthday anymore, mom. I get to push the button now."

Favorite birthday memory ever.

My birthday is on Saturday.*
I think most of my mama friends would tell you that our birthdays tend to be less of a big deal than our kids' birthdays. Okay, maybe that's just in my house. But that's just how it is. My birthday is always at the end of a long string of family birthdays…I don't mind. I am not one of those people who dreads getting older, and I like the general fun of having the whole world wish me a happy birthday. 

But this year?
Oh my. I'm not ready. I'm not interested.
It's hard to believe that I'm going to be one year older.
And Sam never will.

I am going to be 37 years old. And then 38…and 39…and continue on (God willing).
And Sam will remain forever 8 years old.


How is that possible? How can it be?

I've been scared for my birthday. How will it feel to have people say "happy birthday" when I'm really quite far from happy? Is a birthday one of those things that if you skip it for one year you can skip it for good? Will I want to celebrate my birthday someday again? It's not that I don't want to get older…I am so very aware of the beauty and blessing of each minute, each day, each year of living…I just don't have it in me to celebrate….

*A whole different post, a whole different conversation -- a birthday on Shabbat is so nice and quiet, but the Facebook notifications pile up, don't they? And also there's the whole thing about Sam's death ON Shabbat…changing it forever for me. But these are fragments of thoughts I've had…


  1. May your birthday come and go, marking another year for you, quietly this time. You are grieving, and you don't have to celebrate. Someday, you'll be willing to let your kiddos celebrate you and let you push all the buttons that day, but until you feel like it, you are not obligated to it. Spend the day as you wish, quietly contemplating or being loudly distracted. Just let it happen. Those who love you will hold you up, and those of us who care about your family through learning about Sam will send positive thoughts and healing wishes and hope that your next year will bring you strength and a modicum of peace..

  2. As always, I read your words, I feel your pain, I look at these photos of you with beautiful sammy and I cry. It is all just so wrong and so unfair.

    It was on my birthday this year that we were told that my son Caleb's cancer had returned with a vengeance, just when we'd thought we were almost home free. I don't see how I can ever hear the words "happy birthday" again.

    Sunday would have been Caleb's 7th birthday. He's almost your birthday twin.

    It's so awful, exactly as you said - how can we, and our family members, and the world, go on, age up - and our sons do not? The siblings, kinehurah, get older - and the age gap grows? It doesn't even make sense. It's inconceivable, it makes me not even know how to talk about it.

    I love your story about the elevator buttons. It shows that you are brilliant at mothering, and that Sam was a smart and on-the-ball kid, giving you your due but grabbing at life - at his chance to push those buttons.

    Sending you so much love.

  3. You do not have to celebrate, Phyllis, you do not even have to acknowledge it. You only have to go with whatever you feel Saturday, and that will be enough. We are glad you're on this earth, and if that's enough to acknowledge a birthday, than that's enough.

  4. How about Yom Holedet Shalom? For your Shabbat birthday I hope you can have some measure of healing and peace.

  5. Special days and everyday are all different now and forever. Give yourself permission to just pause and not try to make anything new this year. Its hard enough just as it is. Just be and may be remember that without your birth, your children would be at all. So have an unbirthday this year and just take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Love the Kornicks

  6. May it be a year of joy and blessings Phyllis. Is that your Jewish or "regular" birthday?
    In good health for all of you.

  7. I didn't see this before Shabbat, but I wish you (belated) blessings on your birthday... and hope there were moments of sweetness shining through the grief.

    (And isn't it odd -- I'm 38, going on 39, and somehow it never occurred to me that you could be younger than I am. Your presence throughout this whole saga has been so rich and palpable -- I admire you so very much.)

  8. The year after my son died, we didn't celebrate anything. We didn't really say "Happy" anything. I was 37 then. I just turned 40. It was the first birthday I have "celebrated" since losing Max. And, it finally feels ok again...though much different. And, yes, I completely relate to the feeling of dread AND of wondering how we could possibly keep getting older when our child isn't. It's not even possible....though its our reality. The other reality is that people WILL wish you a Happy Birthday and a Happy New Year and a Happy everything else and it will sound like nails on a chalkboard...and then slowly, slowly, you will regrow that protective shell that makes the things that people say a little less painful (but no less thoughtless). Sounds like most people around you are behaving appropriately though...I hope I am right.

  9. After my Father died on a Shabbat I was told that it is auspicious to die on this special day, and that only special souls do.

    In 2012 my grandson was born the day before Mother's Day and died the day after Mother's Day. My daughter-in-law had wanted to become a Mom by her 30th birthday. Less than 2 weeks after sweet Jonah died she turned 30. We acknowledged her birthday with "birthday greetings" and she went out for a little while with some close friends. But the word happy was not used by me that year.

    There are no rules, you make them up as you go along on this journey that is so hard and so different for everyone on it.

    Thank you for sharing - you have given us all a gift on this birthday. I wish you peace.

  10. Allow David, Yael, and Solly to help you figure out the best way to recognize this year's birthday.

  11. Wishing you a peaceful birthday and lots of hugs and kisses from those around you...

  12. wishing you all the best . and a peaceful week.

  13. It is so difficult, I am sure, and even though my dear mother died on Veteran's Day, a veteran of her ailments, I know I can not entirely comprehend what you are going through.

    I wish you small increments of comfort, smiles and peace on your birthday.


  14. I want to "comment" every time, every moment, you are ready to share. My stubborn Internet here in Honduras frustrates my attempts. But all I want to say, really, is thank you. Every word you write gives Sam a new niche in my own life. He blesses the Shabbat day of rest with memories. Let's just say, he is "resting" at 8, forever a child to hold, to carry up and up.

  15. I spend a lot of time remembering ricki my daughter on holidays, what she did. The memories make me grateful to have had her as long as we did.
    But that "bitter-sweet" coloration a death in the family gives to holidays is just part of our new reality.