They Say It’s Your Birthday

You might be surprised to know that the hardest day of the year for me is not the anniversary of Luke’s death.  It’s his birthday.  This might feel counterintuitive as birthdays are about the beginning of life, but that, in fact, is what makes it so incredibly difficult.  When a child is born you are filled with hope and possibility.  You spend all that time deliberating over a name and dreaming about what he or she might become.  Whose nose will they have?  Will they love music or horseback riding or football?  Entwined with all those possibilities is every parent’s need to reimagine their life through their child’s.  Every mistake, every regret, every wrong choice recalibrated in this new life that will be bigger and better than the one the parent has lived.  All of you living vicariously through your children, please raise your hand!  lol  Yep, that’s everybody.

When your child passes away, those hopes and dreams and that future comes to a grinding halt.  You end up with one hell of a case of “what might have been”.  What would Luke have been like at 24 and 32 and 45?  Would he be married? What would he be doing for a living? What kind of father would he be?  On every birthday I would say to my boys, “Today we celebrate the day you were born!” and I would go through the story of their births (grueling and torturous, of course lol) and we would talk about how far they had come in the past 365 days and how proud we were of them.  At the Inwood house the rule is you do exactly want you want to do on your birthday, which some years translates to doing nothing at all.  But it’s YOUR special day.  Birthdays to me are like New Year’s,  your New Year and a chance to reflect on how important it is for you to be on the planet Earth at exactly this time.

Luke has had four birthdays since April 2015.  Each one has been difficult in its own way.  The first, what would have been his eighteenth birthday, was difficult because all Luke ever wanted was to be an adult, his own man, and he never got there.  Luke was the youngest of his group and it was driving him crazy that every one of his friends was turning 18 and headed to hookah bars. lol.  His death was still so new and it was heartbreaking to watch his friends moving on, graduating, and starting to fulfill some of those dreams. Oh, to be full of promise.

This past Tuesday would have been Luke’s 21st birthday.  I feel like this one is a big deal.  You’re finally legal, you’re headed into your third or fourth year of college (if you went), but overall, you are just getting the sense that your life is headed somewhere.  You’re starting to live with purpose.  I see it in the children’s eyes when they visit.  They are settled, confident, more comfortable in their own skin.  It’s a tremendous thing to watch a young person grow and develop over the years.  It’s also tremendously awful when you don’t.

And so every year I anticipate Luke’s birthday with a whole lot of angst.  Usually the King of the Courts tourney comes first (Best Day of the Year) and I inevitably crash into the 19th.  I try and tell myself that each year will be better, but it’s not.  There is nothing I can do or try to tell myself to make me feel better.  My heart just aches with his missing and my fists are clenched all day with the overwhelming need to hold him just one more time.  On the day that gave him life, I miss his life with every fiber of my being.  I want to bake his favorite cake and wrap presents that he will roll his eyes at when he opens them. I want to hear his relief that he can finally go out legally with his friends and then worry about how they are all going to get home.  I want to watch my child grow up, but instead I cry that he is Forever Young.  

So here’s what I need you to know:  When you are missing part of your heart, some days are harder than others and for me, birthdays are hardest of all.  Today we want to celebrate the day you were born, but it is entwined with the mourning of all the possibilities now lost.  So take the day to be sad.  Try and find a little peace whether it’s making that cake or cooking a favorite meal or toasting your now legal son.   It will feel like the worst kind of hell until you climb into bed that night and close your eyes.  But you will get through it.  We get through it.  We make Tomorrow a better day as a last great gift to our children.

Happy Birthday, Lukester.  Xxx

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  • Reply
    Donna Inwood
    June 24, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I cried pretty much through all of this one. I cried for you, his mama and for John, his dad, for Logan his little brother and Luke, himself, for the life he cut short with one bad decision. I will forever hurt that he chose to leave all of us but embed more so that he never got to live out his hopes and dreams, get older, hit that drinking age, meet that special girl and have babies that look like him. I don’t know what his life would have been, but it was his life and I wish he was still here to live it. ??

    • Reply
      Robyn Dudek
      June 24, 2018 at 6:59 pm


      • Reply
        July 1, 2018 at 4:41 pm

        Love you, Miss Robyn. Xxx

    • Reply
      July 1, 2018 at 4:38 pm

      Awww. Donna. I am sorry this one made you so sad. Some days are hard. Xxx

  • Reply
    Donna LoConte
    June 24, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Our family can totally relate to your blog today. Ali’s birthday, which you know is April 14th (doubly sad for your loss as well), is the hardest day of the year for us. Harder than the day Ali was diagnosed and harder than the day she died. Ali loved her birthday. When she turned 20 she was in the hospital with a fever. She managed to wrangle herself out of there in time to get home for a shower, jump in the car and lead the caravan to the beach for a special dinner! She was something else. When she turned 21, she refused to be admitted to the hospital for her bone marrow transplant on April 14 th even though it was the most convenient day for the transplant team. A girl has to have her priorities, right? And on her last birthday Ali dressed up in her best outfit, drank champagne in the hospital lobby with her parents and opened her presents. Though she wasn’t able to be home for her special day she still did it her way. Thanks Patty for writing about Luke’s special day and for reminding us that we are never alone.

    • Reply
      July 1, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      Donna, I loved this story! That Ali sounds like one heck of a young woman. I am so grateful that you reached out and shared part of your heart with me. Sending you a big hug. Xxx

  • Reply
    Jen Kilcoyne
    June 25, 2018 at 10:25 am

    And through all this, you still had time for kind words for me, so sorry Patty, did not realize the timing. You are in my thoughts as well, and know your kindness and empathy is appreciated. Sending love and STRENGTH to you xoxo

  • Reply
    July 1, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Jen, If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times… we mommas have to stick together. I love your family and there is always time for that. Thank you for reading and reaching out and I am looking forward to that walk. Xxx

  • Reply
    Susanne Ferguson
    July 13, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Patty you have expressed exactly how I feel about the Birthday. Always my saddest day,and always has been,although I am alone on this sad day,as we are not a family who discuss anything about Dale. I think we just all deal with it in our own way,and no one really knows what the other one is feeling. David always phones me on this day,and I know why ,but nothing is said,but we know what we are both feeling. I think no one wants to make the other one feel sad,and this works for our family. I was also reading about your going back to work. I know I dreaded the first summer holidays and spent most of it in tears,when I was alone So glad to get back to those little happy smiling children,and like you I cried all the way to work. Life does go on,and thank goodness, life does get better. With 2 beautiful grandchildren now,so many wonderful get togethers,we all do have fun. BUT someone is always missing,and I wonder how a celebration with everyone would have been.I’m glad you and John,and Logan are doing so well! I have a “Dale” star,and I never go to bed without looking to the heavens,and telling him how much I love,and miss him. Thanks for your beautiful words, Patty

    • Reply
      July 15, 2018 at 11:17 am

      Susanne, I am so touched that this post spoke to your own journey. It always makes me cry when I hear about someone else’s struggle with losing their child and your words really touched me. I love that you honor what works for your family – I think that is so important! My Logan is not a talker and I try to check in with him in a way that he is comfortable with. And lastly, thank you for pointing out that life does get better. It’s so hard for people to believe this in those first days. Sending you love! Xxx

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