Birthdays in Exile

Today is Mom’s birthday. She’s 79 years old. (Don’t tell her I told you. She’ll hurt me…) We’ll have her party tonight and lots of her friends will stop by to have cake and ice cream. I’ll be there, my family will be there, and Mom will have a blast.

But I’ll see it. Maybe no one else will, but I will. It will be in the way she’ll turn her head or tries too hard to smile as someone wishes her “Happy Birthday.” There will be just a glint—just a flicker—of sadness. She’ll remember all she’s lost and all that she’ll never get back. She’ll try to relax and enjoy her new friends, but everything I do tonight will just remind her she’s not home.

She’ll miss my dad. Dad never remembered Mom’s birthday. He’d always get it confused with their anniversary. Her birthday is March 14. Their anniversary is March 27. It’s an easy mistake to make, I guess…but every year? Dad would call me in a panic and yell into the phone, “When’s your birthday? Did I miss it?” We would repeat this ritual every year. Dad was hilarious in his excuses and reasons for why he had messed things up this year. He won’t be here this year…and she’ll miss the way he made her laugh.

She’ll look for her friends. Don’t get me wrong. She’s made a lot of friends in Nashville, but they’re new friends. She misses her old friends. She’s had friends who have been part of her life for over fifty years. They know all of the stories…about dad and the store…about the lake house and city politics…about Dad’s first heart attack. They know how she played the piano and how they planned to get together on everyone’s birthdays. A lot of these friends won’t be here. She’ll wonder if her new friends really know who she is. Do they know her story?

And she’ll thank me for a great party, but I’ll hear her disappointment in the way only a son can. I know that while I’m trying to be a good son, I can’t be her husband. I can’t be her old friends. I can’t make up for all that she’s lost.

We’ll do the best we can. We’ll have cake and ice cream, and Mom will have a good time. She’ll laugh. She’ll love the cake and friends that stop by, but there’ll be an emptiness no one can fill. She’ll miss my dad. She’ll miss her friends. She’ll miss herself—the self-assured, independent woman she used to be. We’ll have her birthday party, but it will only remind her that she’s not home.

This isn’t the way she wants things to be. This isn’t where she wants to be. But, it’s where we are, and we’re making the best of it. “Stop worrying about what you can’t do,” she would tell me when I was a boy. “Do what you can and trust God with rest.”

OK, Mom…here goes. There’s a lot I can’t do, but I’m doing what I can. We’ll bring cake and ice cream. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday.” And we’ll trust God with the rest.

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4 thoughts on “Birthdays in Exile

  1. Trying to picture myself to be moving to Atlanta or Birmingham to be near those kids without my husband, BBC, and friends from the past 48 years and have shed a few tears. Just hope I can be as brave as Barbara!

  2. Wishing your sweet mama a Very Happy Birthday (she shares it with my sweet husband). God blessed her deeply with a son like you and I know you feel the same about getting a mom like her. Praying the happiness out weighs the sadness for her if only for one day.

  3. That is really tough Mike! You make me think about my Mom. Wishing you and your family God’s continuing showers of his GRACE and MERCIES in time of need. Your Brother in Christ, Benjamin Gibbs