We made it through Reece’s second birthday. This year was really hard. Other loss mamas had warned me that it could be harder than the first birthday. They were right.
Last year, we indulged in a big party. Family, friends, and fellow loss families gathered to surround us on the weekend before his birthday. One of my dear sisters made the trip from out of state to be with us. We made Reece bear a special hat, a special pumpkin, and all his party guests a giant crock pot of chili soup. Everyone in attendance decorated cookies shaped like a moose or a pumpkin. We crowded outside on the deck with a single blue balloon and sang Happy Birthday. My sister made a video I will cherish forever.
At the conclusion of the song, we released the balloon into the sky. We watched it drift away for a long long time. On his party day, I didn’t feel sad. There was only joy and love. The people that surrounded us confirmed that Reece had meant something to them. That is all a loss family wants. To feel that their child held meaning for other people.
I did not go to work on his birthday that first year. I didn’t work on his birthday this year. I might never work on his birthday. I like the idea of having the day to clear my heart and have some space to feel his presence. True to birthday traditions for other other boys, that first birthday is a big deal. The parties after vary in size and activity. We are rolling much more low key. No big party, just a smaller cake for our little family.
This year in lieu of releasing long-decomposing latex balloons, I discovered something called flying wish paper. It’s like a tissue paper roll that you light on fire and it goes into the air for a second. The boys each got to write something on their paper and roll it up. There is no way I could light a birthday candle, sing the song, and then blow out his birthday candle for him. The flying wish paper was really fun! Fire is always fun with birthdays. With just the four of us, we crowded around the cake and wrote little wishes on flying wish paper. One by one we lit them. The last one with his name on it cued us for Happy Birthday.
In the last seconds, the paper floats up all the way to the ceiling as ashes and comes softly to rest. My husband got really good at catching it with the “launch” paper to minimize the mess.
My husband is a doer. He grieves by taking action. This year my husband was in charge of ordering Reece’s birthday cake. Aside from our oldest son’s request for a marble cake, my husband was free to think of Reece and choose a design. He chose two Hot Wheel cars to share with his brothers. It was most definitely the manliest cake I’ve ever seen!
I still wanted to invite others to celebrate his short life. This year I wanted to spread color and share my love of gardening. Over the course of the last two years, I have struggled to find “my people” in our new city. After Reece’s death, I knew my people would not be typical moms complaining about sleepless nights and sore nipples. I needed people who could help me outside the lines of motherhood. I needed a little piece of myself to flower during the darkest days of grief.
Part of this group’s mission is to spread the use of U.S. native plants. Everything was freely given and guidance was happily shared. I started working in the garden beds of our house, turning bald spots into thriving patches of yellow and purple. I learned how to grow native plants and save their seeds for sharing.
For Reece’s birthday this year, my husband and I were honestly…kinda tired. Our family dog of 10 years passed away about a month ago and the grief bubbles up again in weird ways. I invited a handful of faithful dirt enthusiasts in a small Facebook event as Reece’s planting party. I added my husband as a co-host. He doubled the invitees without hesitation. We shared the work of pulling seeds off the dried heads, mixing them, stamping packets with Reece’s life-sized handprint, and addressing envelopes.
We drank tea and talked about Reece and told stories. It was so special to me to spend time and energy on my littlest boy, just the way I craft birthday decor for Dane or blow up a thousand balloons for Grant.
The day itself was hard. After I dropped the boys off at school and preschool, I had a meltdown in the van. I wanted to sit under warm blankets and stare out the window all day. The tears came in heavy waves. At midday, Ryan needed to get up and DO something. We ended up across town checking out the new Costco. As we walked in, Christmas decor twinkled in our eyes. I walked straight to a box and patted it.
“Ha! It’s a Christmas Moose!” I felt the flood of tears coming on and I had to walk away. I did the best I could to gather myself near the granola bars. As I turned, I see Ryan pushing the cart with the moose in it.
“Today of all days, we can make irrational decisions.”
Grief comes in waves and sometimes a person has to do whatever they can to keep swimming. I see the traditions forming around Reece’s birthday and although the day knocked me over this year, I won’t stop honoring him as I do my other sons on their birthdays. I will always be his mother and he will always be my son.