Sweet Sixteen

It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, blue skies, birds are singing. It’s the perfect day to celebrate a sweet sixteenth birthday. This celebration will be bittersweet, however as the birthday girl is no longer with us. She died on her birthday, she was stillborn.

I didn’t always celebrate my first daughter’s birthday. For many years, in fact, I dreaded this day. Every July, I fell into a severe depressive episode. Every July 14th I’d lay in bed and cry before I started my day. I’d mope around, silently bawling whenever I had a moment alone. If I was around people, I was quiet and didn’t talk much. There was no cause for celebration, there was only mourning. Why would I want to celebrate the day my daughter died?

It wasn’t until years later, after my children knew of their older sister, that we started celebrating Shirley’s birthday. On what would have been Shirley’s 9th Birthday, I was a hot mess. I kept bursting into tears and crying, I tried so hard to hide it from my kids but they noticed and they tried their best to comfort me. My husband did everything he could to cheer me up. He suggested I do some activities that makes me feel good. So, I sat down at the computer and I ended up writing a poem for Shirley. It was heartwrenching to write but man, did I feel better afterwards. When I was finished, I joined my family outside and did some gardening. I remember trying to stay mindful in the moment, watching my children stomp and play in the dirt. I did my best to keep composure throughout the day, I even stayed calm when I looked through Shirley’s memory box. That was the very first time I didn’t get hysterical while looking through it. Shirley’s 9th Birthday was a huge leap for me, in terms of coping with the grief.

Shirley’s memory box. A labor nurse picked it out for her, she said it was such a beautiful day outside and the box reflected that. Zerelda Mim is pictured snuggling the memory box.
Shirley’s hand and foot prints. Her whole hand cradled the tip of my thumb.

Today has been awesome so far. I tidied up my kitchen, coloured in my adult colouring book, did laundry, played with my youngest son and laid him down for a nap, had coffee, and now I’m writing. I feel almost excited for later this evening, this year I bought a cake and ice cream for us to have because every girl needs a Sweet Sixteen cake. It’s a milestone birthday. I remember my “sweet” sixteenth birthday and it was anything but sweet. I don’t want history repeating itself with my children, I want them to look back at their birthdays fondly. I know Shirley isn’t with us but I still want us to honour her memory by celebrating her birthday.

I now celebrate the day my first born died, and I’ll tell you why. I would much rather feel happy than sad, as would most people I assume. I don’t want to be depressed for a month. I don’t want to cry until my eyes swell and I can’t cry anymore. I don’t want my children to see me in that state. I don’t want that at all. I want my first born to be remembered and celebrated, not forgotten or mourned. So we make a point of doing something special together as a family every year on this day, because that’s what we would be doing if Shirley was alive. We’d be celebrating her birthday! So why not do that, in her memory? This was not something I actively decided to do, it’s just something that’s progressed over the last 7 years. Ever since I wrote that poem for Shirley things have changed when it comes to this time of year, and her birthday. I no longer mope around the house or lay in bed crying, I don’t zone out during conversations and go silent. Now, I stay engaged while talking, I play with my children and do my housewifely duties. We talk about Shirley, and what she might be like if she were alive today. We talk about missing Baba, Captain Malcolm, and Felix. We discuss video games, YouTube, the meaning of life, who we were in our past lives, and more. This year, we’re having cake and ice cream. I’m sure some type of game will be played, and movies will be watched.

My children will never get to meet their older sister in this lifetime, it really sucks but it is what it is. Everything happens for a reason,  we may never know what the reason is and we have to accept that. That being said, my children still love and honor their older sister. Every family is different when it comes to traditions and holidays. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We still celebrate a loved one’s birthday even after they’ve passed away, because it’s our way of honouring their memory. My Momma passed away in 2018 and we still celebrate her birthday in our own little ways. It’s important to remember and honour our passed loved ones, so they’re never forgotten.

I haven’t lit any candles yet but I will shortly. Everyone has their own traditions, I have my own. I’m doing lots of self care today, and using therapy skills. I’m distracting myself with music and colouring, housework and “How To Train Your Dragon 2”. I mindfully colour, I mindfully watch the movie with my youngest son, and I mindfully do housework. It helps just staying mindful and living in the moment instead of zoning out and getting lost in my head. I’m about to mindfully go fold laundry and make supper. It’s Taco Tuesday! Oh, and now the baby is awake from his nap. There’s never a dull moment in this house. The kids just realized what today is, they’re excited now. This, now this is what I wanted. I want them to be happy when they think of their older sister. They may never get to meet Shirley but they will definitely honour her memory. Happy Sweet Sixteenth Birthday, Shirley Esther.


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