As I’m writing you it’s almost midnight, my birthday girl. Just ten more minutes and it’s time to blow out the candles. I’ve lit you some, do you know that? I do it every year. I should have lit you twenty-three candles, but I’m two short. Sorry. Let’s just make those two up, shall we? I know you won’t mind.
The last letter I wrote you didn’t reach you in time, but I’ve never been one to give up, so here I am. Writing you anew. Writing you still. Knowing full well you won’t read this. So much has changed since you’re gone, but I’d rather not get into that right now. In a way I’m glad you never got to see some of it. As far as you’re concerned, home is still home and everyone’s still here. You’re the one that got away.
How long will I grieve on these set moments? There are the bursts of tears on random moments, but it’s gotten down to these two times a year when I grieve for real. On D-day, or Death Day as I call it, and on your birthday. You were always a year ahead of me, but I’m now older than you’ll ever be.
No one ever told me that grief was such a mixed-up thing. No one told me that it’s not just sadness, although for a large part it is. The kind of sad that makes you want to clasp your fists and press them against your belly as a counterweight to the heaviness inside there. The kind of sad that makes you wonder if you were ever really sad before, ‘cause if that was sad, then what is this? Sadder. The saddest kind of sad there is.
But it’s more than that. The other half of grief is composed of several emotions that seem too contradictory to be felt alongside each other. And yet. There’s always guilt. Because there’s always something you could have, should have, because it just might have – knowing that it never would have changed anything doesn’t matter a jot. There’s anger, because it was not your time, and it’s just not fair ‘cause it was not your fault. Or because it was, so why didn’t you see that sign? Why didn’t you see a doctor? Why didn’t you have your car checked? Why didn’t you hold on just a little longer?
I expected all of that. I had braced myself for the darkest things I would ever feel, I was as ready for that as anyone can ever really be. And then there was the last part, the light part that in the end weighed me down the most. ‘I’m so glad it’s you, not me. I’m so glad I’m still alive. I’m so glad I get to do this, see this, be here. I’m so happy I’m still breathing, steadily in and out and am not going to stop for a long, long time.’
As I was riding my bike alongside the river, the wind blowing through my hair, my favorite song playing, I was so happy. Happier than I ever was before I was the saddest I had ever been. The moment that hit me, guilt crept back in. So I was happier because you died? You’re in ashes lying somewhere on a field in the pouring rain right now, how dare I even think such thoughts? And with the guilt came the sadness in which I comfortably let myself sink for some time, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? Someone dies, and you cry for ten months straight.
It’s just I found that I can’t cry forever. Apparently no one can, but if so, they were able to make it look that way. They were all winners in the Big Grief Show, while I was standing on the sidelines, wondering. Wasn’t I supposed to be like that? Wasn’t I supposed to let it all out like them? Shouldn’t there be some guidebook on how to grieve? They all say there’s no wrong way to grieve. They forget to mention there’s no right way either.
I always stood there, quietly admiring life while they were still so sad.
Yet when they went back to work, back to school, back to life, I was still standing there. With my grief, or whatever you want to call it, ‘the emotions I felt that arose from your death’, with my ball of mixed emotions hurled up in my body. Marveling at butterflies, and feeling guilty for not being sad enough. Refusing to play your songs. Crying on the floor until I got cold, then got hungry. Still enjoying food. Writing you angry letters, composed of one syllable words. Why. Why. Why. Why. How could you. Why. Why. I love you. So much. I miss you. Why did you. I am sad. I am so, so, so sad.
I know it now. All the while I was grateful for being alive, I never stopped being sad. I never stopped loving you, I just never stopped loving life either. Being so incredibly lost is a feeling only living humans feel, so I guess I was the most alive I ever was, and there’s no greater feeling than being alive. Not even the saddest kind of sad there is.
So here’s to you, my birthday girl. Here’s to you and the life you had. Here’s to the life that left you long ago, that was never yours to have. Here’s to darkness and the choice you made. Here’s to the sadness and here’s to happiness as well. I’m so happy you were here once, I’m so glad I still am. Here’s to you and your birthday. I’ll be here next year, I’ll bring the candles.
Blow them out now, before they fade away.