Grief, anniversaries, and a happy birthday, too

My dad would have been 74 today. 

His birthday and mine were just a day apart, and even though there was only a day difference, we each had our own birthday cakes. His was always chocolate; mine was always strawberry. 

We would eat cake for days. 

As a kid, though, the birthday festivities were generally centered around me and my parties – except for that one memorable 40th birthday, where my mom threw my dad a surprise birthday party. He was completely mortified, and I’m shocked that my introverted, quiet father didn’t turn around and run out of that room when he saw what was in store for him. 

Even though this will be the seventh birthday we celebrate without him, not a year goes by without noting the date, imagining the celebration that could have been, and wishing that life had been a bit different. 

A friend of mine from college posted on Facebook the most accurate description of grief that I’ve ever read: grief is like having a ball confined in a box. At first, the ball is super big and it can’t do anything but hit the sides of the box, so it hits them all the time. But then, over time, the ball gets smaller, but it still bounces throughout the box and still will hit the sides of the box – but not as often as it did at first. It never leaves the box, but time allows the ball to shrink.  

That’s how his birthday feels. 

During the first two years, I always tried to honor his birthday by giving my testimony on social media because he did that on his own so many times. But, to be honest, I hate doing things like that. I’d rather have a sit-down, one-on-one, organic conversation with someone about my religion than doing it over blast on social media.  

Then I tried to post a memory or something on Facebook on his birthday, on Father’s Day and the anniversary of his death in April. But honestly – some of those days that little ball hit a little harder than others, and I don’t want sympathy or conversations. 

I just wanted chocolate cake and silence. I’m a bit of an introvert, too. 

As I’m technically writing this column on Oct. 23, I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring. I’m going to visit my mom today. I’m planning to take chocolate or strawberry (or both – I do like my sweets) cupcakes to her house so we can celebrate my birthday and my dad’s in the way that feels right today. And that’s okay. 

Grief is a tricky little git, and I think it’s okay that some years I want to announce it on social media – or in a column – or share a funny memory online or scroll through old birthday pictures of us – or just eat a chocolate cupcake and remember how much he liked chocolate cakes. 

I do too. 

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