A Birthday Celebration


Family and friends for Molly14th bday, 20th birthday
The pictures on top show Molly’s 14th birthday, her first in heaven. Over 70 people trudged through a foot of snow to sing and release balloons. Emmy and Maegan came to the house. The pictures on the bottom show Molly’s 20th birthday. Just her immediate family an aunt and three friends at the cemetery and just family at home. This passage of time can be difficult to navigate.

Molly would be twenty years old now of she had not died at age 13. Her birthday is always difficult because I am reminded that all the things I thought would happen the day I gave birth to her that are no longer possible. As happy as that day was, at the time, it is now a stark reminder of Molly’s absence.

She was here, and now she is not.

In their efforts to “make me happy” many people are quick to say things like, “she right here!”, or “she is closer than you know”, or “her spirit is with you always”. I understand how the soul works and I truly believe that Molly IS with me all the time, but she is not here physically. She is not living in her body. So, she isn’t here in a way that Gracie and Jack are here. 

In my grief I have struggled since the very beginning to balance keeping things the same with moving along in life. Those first days and weeks were horrifying in a way that still brings panic to my heart. Not truly being able to believe that she was dead. So, keeping belongings and furniture just the way she left them was key for me. Seven years later her dance costumes still hang in the hallway and her red winter coat hangs in the kitchen. Her nail polish shelf is on the wall in Gracie’s bedroom and her posters remain where she hung them. It is hard for me to process that one day these too will be moved.

Evidence of her disappears.

In my moving along journey, I have tried to connect with people who did not know me before Molly died. I find that when people meet this version of me first, there is no expectation for me to return to the Barb I was before Molly died. Most of my family and close friends accept me for who I am but I can see it sometimes, in the expressions of some, when Molly’s name comes up, or I talk about my sadness and grief. It makes them uncomfortable.

Molly’s birthday celebrations, seven of them now since she died, illustrate the struggle of keeping things the same and moving along. Her last alive in her body birthday was her 13th. Emmy and Maegan, two friends from dance were her guests. Molly, Gracie, and their friends watched a movie, ate cake, and had a fabulously good time. It was a dance competition weekend so it ended early.

Life was good.

Her first three birthdays in heaven repeated having these girls come over after we released balloons at the cemetery. This reenactment of that last birthday provided comfort to all involved. The balloon release and singing at the cemetery was a way to include all who might want to come sing to Molly and it included her in the best way we could. She was physically right below us. The crowds were big, the singing loud.

As we progressed into years four, five and six covid played a role in limiting the in-house party. The crowd at the cemetery was still good but Molly’s friends were in high school now. They had jobs and commitments. Sometimes dance class interfered. The only way I can feel somewhat ok about all of this is to acknowledge that if she had lived, her birthdays would have changed as well.

So, year seven had me thinking that most people have moved along at a much faster rate than I have. This is normal, I am her mother. Kenny will do what ever I ask when it comes to Molly. I do the same for him. He is her dad. I ordered balloons. Thirteen pink ones for her years here on earth, seven purple for the years she has been gone. The giant numbers, a “2” and a “0”. I bought the cake. The candles. The ice cream.

Me trying to keep things the same.

Gracie and B picked up the balloons and met us at the cemetery. When we arrived my Aunt Sheila was there. She would be the only family member that came. My friend Danielle and her daughter Hailey showed up as well. Molly’s story was instrumental in saving her niece Lexi from a malignant brain tumor. While Lexi struggles with the battle of cancer, Molly has played a role in her survival. While they never met human Molly, they are very familiar with spirit Molly. Their arrival put a lump in my throat. We sang Happy Birthday at 3:45pm, Molly’s birth time. We took turns releasing balloons, each of us sharing a Molly story. B spoke about his best friend Colby, who died by suicide a few years ago. Jack said “bye bye balloons!” as they rose to the sky.

Sheila came to the house and we ate cake and ice cream. We visited. We played with Jack, who kept us laughing. My sister Johanna texted from the cemetery. She was saying hi to Molly. She came by and we ended up having a sleep over. We did the best we could.

I didn’t hear from a lot of folks I thought I would, but was surprised at the beautiful words from people I didn’t expect. Most of those close to Molly came through. It shouldn’t matter to me who remembers her and how they choose to do it, but is does. The panicked mother who is looking for her missing daughter wants proof she still exists. This part of me is fierce this time around. Some of the things that are still the same bring sadness rather than comfort. I am not sure what to do.

I am thinking that next year the cemetery will be just me, Kenny and Jack. Gracie of course, should she be living locally but she is young. Had Molly not died they might have been far away from home anyway. I think is may be time to move her birthday along. Change how we do it, use it as a kick start perhaps, for the MollyB Foundation Fundraising season. Let it once again be an actual beginning rather than a stark reminder of a premature end to Molly’s life.

I am sad as I write this. I am anxious. I am not sure what to do. I am also not sure what not to do. I am in the living room. Kenny and Jack are upstairs. We will switch out soon and I will have Jack time. Life will just continue to move along. We bring Jack to dance class; this may be a way to keep things the same. We bring him to swim class; this might be a way of moving along. Gracie is contemplating getting her own place to live. This is a good thing. She must find her path and as much as we hold on to traditions and belongings, her built in best friend Molly is gone.

We all now learn to move along with a version of Molly that is not always visible. We honor and remember her. We miss her and ache for her. All day every day. Happy 20th Birthday Molly. We are doing the best we can.  Next year we will throw you a giant celebration of what would have been your 21st trip around the sun with us. A terrific way to start a new birthday tradition. I have already started planning!

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