Happy belly-button day, Carol.
It dawned on me early this morning that this old recovery expression is necessary for a life like yours. The day you came into the world is a birthday, but one of too many to count.
Your life was an expanse of birthdays that surprised like the painted skies at sunset that captured your imagination.
When you braved that first day of kindergarten and realized it would all be OK. The day you met your best friend and became so inseparable that for the next 15 years you moved as one, like starlings in flight. The slumber parties, first crushes, sneaking out at night, sticking up for each other when boys were mean. Every time you discovered something new in yourself, whether strength, or joy or pain, was a birth — or perhaps I should say re-birth.
You were reborn on the day you became a mother — each time — devoted Lauren, adventurous Jack, stalwart Lexy.
A new light shone each time you bragged about “the monkeys” or told the story of some misadventure, or worried about them– each time they crossed your heart.
When you planned their birthday parties it was up for debate who anticipated the events more, your children or you, with your detailed plans and child-like impatience to unwrap their happiness.
You had a gift for making each experience feel like the first time: when you sought your parents’ advice, confided in your sister, reunited with sorority sisters, or picked up a friend at the airport after months apart. Every time you said, “I love you” it was new.
You were born again when you discovered wit and humor and laughter and their healing power.
I recall the night when we kicked back and stared up at the stars on the old Arkoe road. Mind you, we were looking through the windshield of my parents’ station wagon, which you had crashed backward into a ditch after a 360 degree spin on ice. We landed with the front end jutting straight toward the sky like a rocket ship awaiting launch. You sobbed, “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!” But we both giggled when I said, “Hey, look, there’s the Big Dipper.”
Over the years we would laugh our way through worse predicaments.
You were renewed every time you laughed–and when you made all of us laugh.
Especially your capacity for finding humor in dark places, when you didn’t know if you could go on. The laughter that brought moments, days, weeks of healing, helping you loosen your grip on a life that demanded more from you than was fair.
There were sobriety birthdays when you found reprieve, and a deeper kindness. The first day you asked for help was a new beginning as was each moment of grace that followed. And those courageous re-birthdays when you shouldered massive decisions to stand up for yourself and start over.
The times when life abused you and knocked you down were relentless, but you were reborn, sustained mostly by a love that was more relentless–for your children, your parents, your sister, all the people blessed by your playful, generous spirit.
Today is the first time that we celebrate the anniversary of your birth since you were taken from us. A band of your high school classmates are gathering to celebrate the day and all those unmarked moments that created you. Facebook posts are calling out to you. Phone lines are connecting your friends.
However, we haven’t seen your last birthday. They will continue to come too fast to count.
When your children remember a surprise party or an adventure with a mom who never forgot what it was like to be a teenager, you will take on new life. When someone shares a piece of advice from you, hard-won wisdom, it will be like lighting a candle. Even now as we grieve, you are vivid and alive in the tears and smiles, in the way we miss you. We long for the celebration we experienced when we were with you.
You came alive last week when I told the story of how loud you screamed when I donned a ski mask and tapped on your car window with an axe after a night watching horror movies. And again when your friend shared with me your last breakfast together, what she had learned from you and how you held your mother’s hand in your final days at the hospital. When your friends gather and inevitably remember a night on the town, or a Royals game, or a simple “no hair, no shower” breakfast between two friends, there will be more reasons to celebrate your endless births.
Happy belly-button day, for now, my friend. Until you are born again tomorrow.