grief: celebrating birthday’s and other happy occasions

It’s my 32nd birthday tomorrow. To get straight to the depressing content – it’s the 4th birthday I will have experienced since my Dad passed away.

Tomorrow there will be many absent experiences; no text from him, no card with meaningful words, no phone call.

It’s interesting to reflect on how I’ve handled these past three birthdays. The first one, my 29th, was tremendously difficult as I’d just started experiencing awful anxiety. I spent my birthday looking ok on the outside but feeling utterly terrified. It was completely overwhelming and I had no idea what was going on.

Following that, it was one year until my 30th and for many reasons I decided to compile a list of 30 things to do before I turn 30. This list represents some of the intensely varied and confusing feelings that accompany grief. An intense desire to live life to the full and to embrace new experiences partly came from wanting to celebrate that aspect of my dad’s nature. But also, it came from the way in which any death makes you startlingly aware of how fleeting your days are and just how fleeting is unknown and out of your hands.

If I were to delve a bit deeper, I would see the fearlessness that came with grief, which allowed me to freely compile the list and complete many, if not all the things on it. None of it was massively reckless but in a good way I have become less sensitive and fearful.

… Ahem… What? You just said you were terrified with anxiety and now you’re fearless?

Yes! I did say that and I was both. Grief is nonsensical and a draining struggle with topsy-turvy feelings. Also, the anxiety was reflective of the impact of the loss on my mental health. The impact of the loss on my personality and sense of self was a boost in confidence and bravery because…

What could I lose that would hurt more than this?

For my 30th we threw a big 20s themed party, which was awesome. It felt wrong and unfathomable to be celebrating this milestone without my Dad. It can feel wrong to celebrate anything at all. Thus begins another set of conflicting emotions; guilt over not wanting to celebrate life, guilt over celebrating a birthday when they no longer can. These feelings are alongside a desire to celebrate knowing they would want you to and knowing that not-celebrating your life does not change anything.

This evening for our family film night we were watching Inside Out. It reminded me of the importance of acknowledging our sadness. When it comes to grief, sadness is a representation of a deep love. To push it aside and say it has no place on a special occasion is to say the person’s absence is not felt.

But, there is a choice to be made in allowing the sadness to throw into relief all of the happiness life still has to offer.

Happy birthday to me!

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