Happy International Women’s Day! March 8th is a fitting day for International Woman’s Day as today is the birthday of the most important woman in my life, and the one who gave me life, my mom.
Is or was? That’s always tough for me when talking about my mom. In the case of birthdays, it technically still is her birthday, the same day she was born. My mom would have been 54 today.
Today marks her first birthday since her death in June. Since June it’s been a year of firsts – my first birthday without my mom, the first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, you get the picture. With each milestone comes a painful reminder that my mom isn’t alive to celebrate. Thankfully I’ve been busy filling the second half of this first year without my mom traveling, with as many fun, adventure filled firsts as possible.
Some could assume I’m escaping the reality of grief, the constant reminders from home. Like telemarketers calling wanting to speak to my mom, asking for more donations to the countless charities she’s made – avoiding answering until you’re tired of the daily calls and one day get the courage to pick up the phone, to tell the stranger on the line that your mom passed away, which results in an equally awkward conversation for both of you. And you cry after you hang up because you feel bad, bad that you just made the other person on the line feel bad – they are just doing their job, but mostly feel bad that your mom is dead.
The truth is you can’t escape grief – that was never my intention anyway. While sometimes it is “easier” to be gone, travel grants the gift of time, abundant time on planes, buses, and plentiful treks out in the open, where you have the opportunity to face your grief head on.
How do you “celebrate” your dead mom’s birthday? Ideally you would spend it with family. Unfortunately, my family is spread across the globe. I’m spending the week in the small, coastal, colonial, Brazilian, beach town of Paraty (it is so picturesque, I am already obsessed). My sister is in the Paraguayan campo (she’s a Peace Corps volunteer and although I really hoped to be with her for my mom’s birthday, we will be reunited in just a matter of days to celebrate her own birthday – and St. Patricks Day right before in Asuncion, Paraguay – apparently, they have a big celebration for it there, who knew?). You can read her blog about my mom’s birthday here. My dad is on a business trip in Charlotte, North Carolina and my brother is in Southern California where he plays college baseball. I’m not one to complain as I think I currently might have the better end of the deal (sorry guys!). Even so, this milestone unexpectedly hit like a sack of bricks.
I can’t help but think of my mom’s last birthday. Again, all her kids were gone – I had a business trip in Florida. My sister already began her service in Paraguay and my brother was at school in California. I know she had a great celebration with my dad and her friends. I tried my best to make up for being gone by ensuring she had some presents and a card to open on her day special day – things that were thoughtful and also useful. Nice makeup she was running low on (which she never had the chance to use that I now have on the trip), pop tarts (she was on a weird diet due to stomach problems related from her cancer treatment and she wasn’t allowed to have fiber, this was the closest thing I could find to chocolate cake).
Her condition was bad, but not bad enough where we would have accepted that she only had a few months left to live. Part of me worried it could be her last birthday, but I buried that part and prayed for the best.
On her birthday last year, after a long day of work I went shopping at the boutique at my hotel, while on phone with my mom. This is something we did all the time, although she was usually the shopper and I was the recipient on the other end of the line (unless we were shopping together). I was looking for something beach-y and fun for her to wear on her upcoming vacation to Maui with my dad for his company trip.
The boutique was expensive, the woman in the shop was pointing out all kinds of overpriced and inappropriate pieces for my mom. Her frame had become nearly skeletal with the exception of a distended stomach – all characteristics from her cancer that she hoped to hide with cute cover ups in Hawaii. I hit the sale rack (as she would) and sent pictures of clothes like she would always send me (once she learned how to successfully use her iPhone, the iPhone I travel with now). We agreed on a cute white three-quarter length top with pink sea horses and a printed pattern (that would have also worked well on this trip – I wish I would have packed it).
Today, I hope the sun will shine so I can enjoy the beach and soak up the sun like my mom would have loved to. Whenever the sun was out, regardless of the time of year or temperature, my mom would have been on the back deck working on her tan.
I know one thing’s for sure. I’ll be eating chocolate cake (probably brigadeiro – the delicious Brazilian chocolate cake/fudge like dessert – Google/Bing it). Maybe I’ll buy myself something my mom would’ve liked, hopefully on sale (more like I’ll have to bargain with a local).
I hope to honor her memory by finding a way to help someone out today. To make connections with everyone I meet (which will be a little harder since I don’t speak Portuguese, but smiles are international).
Matt suggested that we light a candle on the beach at sunset, or better yet, release a floating luminary (although we don’t know how to make one – but you can learn how to do to anything on YouTube nowadays). I love that idea. I think my mom would too. Hopefully we will be treated to a gorgeous sunset to honor a gorgeous woman.
Happy birthday mom. Happy international women’s day to all the ladies, damas, mujeres, and mulheres across the globe. If we’ve all got half the fight in us that my mom did, we should be in good shape.