The Gift of Family

I started, and stopped, writing this post at least half a dozen times in the past few days.  Only a very few people knew what my heart had secretly desired on my November 3rd birthday, and I wasn’t ready, or eager to share that desire with the world.

I’d wanted a gift from my mother.

Now, as most of you know, my mother died last year on my birthday.  That fact alone should have been enough to convince me that there wouldn’t be a gift from my mother this year, but if you think that was enough to deter me from expecting something, you would be wrong. I secretly hoped that my mother could accomplish no less than reaching beyond the grave to greet me on my special day. After all, this past year has brought me many moments of certainty that she was able to do so.  There was the beautiful “Ave Maria” sung at the doctor’s office right after my grandson was diagnosed with cancer, a feather in my make-up basket when I was going through a difficult time, and the bumblebees I kept seeing. Just like my mother did before me; I yearn for and cherish any “signs” or “messages” from beyond. So I’d secretly harbored the desire that my mother would do something spectacular for my special day. After all, she’d never forgotten my birthday.

So, I held onto my little secret hope, and even felt an occasional twinge of excitement at the thought that my mother might acknowledge my birthday in some way, whether it was a bumblebee on my shoulder or a basket full of feathers. At the same time, I’d dreaded the day; the anniversary of my mother’s death.

On the morning of November 3rd I posted a note on my family’s website, greeting them with a virtual “hug,” knowing they would be experiencing the same loss as I was upon that one year anniversary.  And then I went about my day, keeping busy with finishing up some painting in the kitchen, catching up on some much-needed house-cleaning, and doing laundry, until the postman arrived and I eagerly snatched a few birthday cards from the stack of mail my daughter hauled into the house.  Was I expecting a card from my mother? Not really, but neither was I expecting the birthday cards that included checks or money towards my writing conference fund that now topped off within $12 of my goal. Or the card from my sister with the sweet sentiments written inside.

Still, I couldn’t help but stifle a small feeling of incongruous disappointment; it was nearing the end of the day and my mother hadn’t yet given me anything.

As the afternoon wore on, I found myself checking the clock, anticipating an evening meal with my sister, Angela.  The realtor who had sold our mother’s house had sent us a gift card for a local steak house so we thought my birthday would be a good day to use it.  At 3:00 p.m. I changed my clothes and was putting on make-up when David walked in the bedroom and commented, “It looks like you’re getting ready for a date,” and I realized I was; a date with my little sister on my birthday.

Shortly after 4:00, Angela and I met at the restaurant, and the first thing out of her mouth was “Should we order a bottle of wine to celebrate your birthday?”  I hesitated; I wasn’t used to wine. I only drank it at Christmas.  Then we looked at the price on the menu and decided on a glass, instead. Good thing, too, since we’d both eaten light that day and quickly noticed the flushing of our cheeks and a slight tipsy feeling, less than halfway through the drink.  We laughed, we talked, but we didn’t cry, despite the several inevitable references to our mother in our conversation. It couldn’t have been a better way to enjoy a birthday meal, sharing it with a sister I never get to spend near enough time with.  On the drive home, I found myself smiling and reflecting on the renewed friendship Angie and I now share since our mother’s death.

No box on the porch, I noted ruefully when I arrived home. Had I expected my mother to mail a package? Of course not, but still I felt disappointed.

I’d been so busy I hadn’t checked my computer most of the day. My e-mail informed me that there had been several comments made on my family’s website, so I clicked on the link.

A big hug back to you, Mary,” one brother had written, “and happy birthday.”

“A big hug to you. I love you,” a sister had added.

“Big hugs to all of you, especially you, Mary. I’ve been thinking about Mom today,” another had written.

I felt a warmth go through me, as if the virtual hugs had been actual embraces.

And then it hit me.

I love my siblings. Knowing that each of them had lost someone so precious as our mother a year before; knowing they understood, intimately, how I felt, meant the world to me.

The sister who had called me from work that morning to wish me a “happy birthday,” the sister who had written gushing loving sentiments in a birthday card, the one who shared an evening meal and a glass of wine, and those who had “hugged” me via the Internet; I treasured each and every one of them.

I felt a huge smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.

My mother had given me a birthday gift, after all, a gift that had been in front of me all along~my siblings.

Thanks, Mom.

POSTSCRIPT: This evening after I wrote this blog posting I pulled out my checkbook to pay a bill that was on my desk and an envelope fell out. My sister had given it to me when I worked at her store on Saturday. It was some money from the sale of a few Barbie dolls that a friend gave me to help fund my writing conference.  Inside the envelope was~ you guessed it: $12

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