Happy Birthday

It is morning. Tomorrow it’s my Love’s birthday. I walk to the supermarket to buy some treats for breakfast. A friend just encouraged me to ‘go, walk into nature Ineke, it will do you good’. So I decided to walk a longer road, through the park. I choose the route my children would choose: over stones on the water to the other side. For a short time, but very sharp, there is a sense of painful sadness: I do not have to take the normal road, because I do not have a stroller with me. I am only on my own.

I look around and see the beauty of a white world. Here and there footsteps and dirt, but most of what I see is totally pure. The white covers the ugliness for only a short time, but what a relief when that happens. I remember what I read somewhere. When there is snow, the earth is drenched, deeply nurtured. It often happens that way in our lives too. You might not see anything from the outside, but deep inside all kind of stuff is happening. I dismiss the thought and plough through the snow to the shopping centre in my neighbourhood.

I walk through the supermarket and think of what he would like and choose things I normally don’t buy. I should not take too much with me if I want to come home with my tennis elbow and my painful back. Cautious I choose the shortest way home. I walk pass flowers and plants. Suddenly a thought pops up: ‘Lilies!’ I need to have lilies, because tomorrow it is his birthday and she again is not there. Lilies symbolize her being there while not being there. They are the sign that she should have been there.

I walk into the florist and hear myself asking for lilies because they are symbol of our deceased daughter and we will celebrate someone’s birthday. Sigh. I don’t understand why I say this and the florist has no words for me in reply. He names his high price and I give it in cash. I put on my gloves again and head back into the cold. ‘Have a good birthday’ he says, by means of saying goodbye.

Suddenly I cry. I am angry with myself. In the safety of my home I don’t cry, I can’t. I get away in being busy or in entertainment. But here, in the cold, with my backpack and a shopper in one and lilies in the other arm, I am suddenly not able to resist it anymore. I walk home cautious, trying to avoid people. In silence I pray. God, this would be a very good moment to let me know that I am not alone. To my surprise my phone gives the familiar sound. Again tears rain down over my cheeks.

I don’t understand myself at all. I have no control over my mourning. The only thing I can do is walk the way before me, literally and figuratively. And I could try to stop suppressing so much, as I am doing that way too many times. I encourage myself: ‘you van cry at home, just walk home as fast as you can’. But then I pass someone who is not that sensitive and likes to hear himself speak. I have to be blunt to get away from him, but being blunt at a time of deep grief, is way too blunt in my case, so I withhold myself.

When I am home I smash the lilies on the table. It doesn’t help. These lilies are cold and stiff and already dying since they were plucked. I want my daughter walking next to me, babbling about what we bought for her daddy, telling that full of enthusiasm to her brother and sister who will come home for lunch soon. But that is not going to happen. It is just a fact and I have to accept it. But how you do that, I still don’t know.

Grief is love you cannot give away. That is so true. I sit down and write the postcard for my Love full of sweet words. Happy birthday my love. And when writing down the names of all of us, I write down hers as well, although she is physically only present in the form of a lily.

First published in Dutch on January 31, 2019

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