Today, September 11th, is my birthday. As a member of the widowed community I now have met and come to know the real life stories of women who lost their person on 9/11/2001. Knowing that others are mournful on a day that I would otherwise be celebrating does put a damper on the day. How could it not?
Celebrating love that lives on with
Tanya at Camp Widow West. Her fiance,
Sergio Villanueva, was a responding
NYC firefighter on September 11, 2001.
On my 2001 birthday I opened cards that arrived in the mail, glanced at them and tossed them straight in the trash. I can’t tell you exactly why. Grief alters our usual behavior in unexpected ways. We stayed quietly at home. We did not sing the birthday song. I can’t remember if there was a cake.
My birthday remains a paradox: this day is not about me but this day is about me.
Over the course of the last decade plus I have created a few ways to take care of myself and handle the contradictory feelings of the day. I stay away from media, enjoy a nice dinner that I don’t have to cook and each year I ask myself what feels right as a way to honor the totality of the day.
Imagine opening your mailbox and finding more than one hundred birthday greetings. That’s what social media, in particular Facebook, can be like on a birthday. It’s pretty awesome. Now imagine following the mail carrier as she makes her rounds and seeing that on that same day in all the other mailboxes she is depositing sympathy cards. Others are in a pain that is palpable, some more acute than others. Any celebratory mood tends to fall away.
Others need a chance to commemorate and remember what happened to our nation on 9/11. I totally get that and yet it hurts my heart to witness the collective grief. My way of coping and holding onto a day that should be celebratory for me is to incorporate a different type of remembrance. Generally from September 10th through September 12th I take a social media break. I enjoy and acknowledge the birthday greetings when I get back. I cheer my fellow 9/11 babies, offer my thoughts of love for those I know who mourn the day directly and then I excuse myself.
I’ve added the celebration back into the day after not feeling that it was appropriate for a few years. At some point I got angry and declared that I would not let the terrorists take my birthday from me in addition to all that had been taken from our country. This is how grief works, isn’t it? My grief over the event and the expression of it has evolved as it will do.
My day will be low-key but it would have been anyway because that’s what works for me. I plan to incorporate some form of art-making into the day. A nice dinner out with my family and even a glass of champagne will also be on the agenda followed by guilt-free cake at home.
As for the remembrance part, this week I have already given a gift. I made a donation on behalf of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, a non-profit organization I volunteer with that supports widowed people worldwide, some of them 9/11 widows. Maybe this happens to everyone eventually – that they get to a point where they feel the need to give on their birthday – or maybe it’s a function of the date on the calendar for me. Regardless, it is now part of my celebration.
I recognize and honor that for some today marks a deep and very personal loss because their person is never coming home.
I recognize that this is a national day of loss and remembrance for the nation.
I recognize this day will be painful for people in grief feeling the sting of old wounds.
I recognize that this birthday I share with so many others in this generation will never be exactly the same again.
I know that love lives on.
I remember that this is still my day to celebrate so that is what I will do.