Someone You Love Died. It’s Their Birthday. How Do You Celebrate? I Get A Doughnut


When my grandma passed away she was 4 months shy of her birthday. She had black hair with streaks of gray that to the day make me believe that every hair on her head was precisely placed. The gray hairs spoke of a lifetime hitting the same walls and wondering why they never budged. They spoke of her humanity, her love, her faults, the tears she cried when she lost her daughter, the ones that never completely left when she buried her husband.

When she would ask me to braid her hair, I would climb onto the full sized bed that she rarely left and kneel behind her. I was 14 and petulant. I was 17 and busy. It took being 21 and having to raise the twin sized hospital bed, that had replaced her corner of the room, with a remote control to make me grateful that she still asked me to braid it. 

Strand by strand I would build out her braid and tell her jokes. I would sing songs I made up the words to. I would massage her head the way she used to do mine but had since forgotten. 

I was 21 and aware that I was losing her, so I took her in and for the months after she passed I couldn't let go. 

On April 10th, 2014, I cried because it had been a month. On April 20th, I curled up into fetal position on my bed and cried because Easter, a holiday only she really celebrated, was the first I was spending without her. On May 11th, I wiggled flowers into the ground for my two moms. On July 18th, I wondered what you were supposed to do if celebrating the day someone was born is a stark reminder that they’re no longer alive. 

It’s three years later and I still don’t actually know what to do on her birthday.

My confusion is found in the way my body remembered it was her birthday before logic made me realize the date. For days I’ve been especially emotional, sensitive in the ways I remember being during the time right after she died. I attributed it to being on the PMS-time of my birth control pack or to the fact that life is hard and people aren’t always kind. But it’s ultimately the nagging reality that the mind may forget a date, but the body is on the same wavelength that knew them. It breathes in and out into a space where they still existed and their breaths blew out candles. 

It’s memory foam that doesn’t really forget shapes or vibrations or that she loved French Crullers. 

The deeper you get into years with an ‘s’ at the end from the time you last held them, the more you return to their humanity and how they were a person in your life. The deceased stop becoming the person you memorialize and instead return to being the grandma who you got kind of annoyed at when she interrupted your FRIENDS marathon to have her hair braided.

You feel a pang of guilt when it’s 11:33pm on July 17th and you realize her birthday is tomorrow. 

There’s a blessing and a curse in that. The comfort of knowing them stops being something that hurts and that’s something you never thought would happen. You know the pain that losing them brought. You know the way your stomach turned every time you thought of the days after their last breath. You can still tell stories of the days you lived like they were a movie you watched at Sunday matinee. Very rarely, in the midst of that, do you believe that you’ll get back to a place where their favorite doughnut won’t make you want to cry. 

But, I guess, you do. 

I don’t know when or how but there’s a moment things switch. There’s a moment when you miss them instead of reliving their death every time you hear their name. It’s a good moment, not because it doesn’t bring its own stomach ache of pain, but because it’s overrun with happy moments. At its resting point it’s no longer a resting bitch face and more like a serious smile that can very effortlessly turn into a grin. 

The day you lose someone you’re handed a thread that you don’t ever let go of. Its weight changes as moments push you forward and memories you love win out on the ones at the hospital, at the hospice, at the resting site of a car accident. 

Today’s my grandma’s birthday. The thread of her loss is wrapped around my finger. I’m also holding a French Cruller doughnut in that hand, so there’s that.