There’s a bittersweet twinge to reaching the end of something you hold dear. On Fridays, the end-of-week elation eclipses any sense of the weekend’s finite nature. Somehow, when you leave the office or pack up your stuff, it’s hard to conceive of any end to that easy cruising feeling. Sunday always takes you by surprise.
If you couldn’t tell by the premise of this blog, I am fascinated by birthdays. I am that friend that starts dropping hints about yours weeks before it comes. Don’t have a friend like that? Befriend a Leo—or anyone that loves their own birthday. The saving grace of my self-involvement is the fact that, if you’ll allow it, I’ll throw as much enthusiasm at your birthday as I do at mine.
One thing I like about birthdays—and holidays, weddings, festivals, concerts, and seasonal events—is their ability to capture a moment of fleeting warmth and make it annual. An unlucky day of one year can be shrouded in love and warmth next year, and the next, and the next. And the one after that, until you feel grateful for the hurt and whole of it. Those fundamental and unforgettable holidays wouldn’t be so sweet were it not for a dash of bitter.
This past Friday would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. Up until the last time I saw her, I was certain she’d live to see it. My family planned elaborate reunions around her special day, for as long as I could remember. The first one, or maybe the most notable one, was a surprise cruise in the Caribbean. How my mom and aunts managed to keep it secret is still a mystery to me. But I’m forever grateful for it, as it instilled in me a lifelong appreciation for smiles that sneak up on you. Seeing my entire family in the same room gave my grandmother a smile that I’ll always have with me.
I said goodbye to her a little over three years ago, with a kiss on the cheek and an “I love you” in my best French accent. It was 5am on some day of the week, and my mom and I would soon depart for the airport from our home in west Texas. Even as it happened, I wanted that goodbye to be different.
But it wasn’t. My mother and I had made that same drive countless times before, down to the same hour of dewy morning. There was nothing special about it, until I began sobbing at the end of our block.
After a quarter-mile of denied breath and subtle deceleration, I blurted, “it feels like I’m never coming home again.”
In retrospect, this was painfully true. The ride to the airport was deluged with last looks. Our house, where I had grown up, where my grandmother had raised me, where we had hosted the Family Reunion of 2011, would be put on the market soon after. I’d spend the next three years of holidays in between two unfamiliar school districts. I would never again see the university I had sworn never to go to, chartered just four short blocks from my house. It was the last time I’d wait too long for the light on Flint Street to change. The last time I’d have a reason to slide into the back row of my mother’s car, and watch my grandmother’s hat frame the headrest of the passenger seat.
The first September 29th after she passed was tough. There was so much around me to hate. I hated the dining hall food, which could never compare to a home cooked Haitian meal from Grandmère. I hated my classes, and my RA job, which were taking up a lot of my scheduled and unscheduled moping time. I hated my mom for calling me to remind me of the date, as if it didn’t hurt enough already. Most of all, I hated how dark and cold that day felt, when so many before it brimmed with warmth, love, and excitement. At the time, I thought that particular 29th of September would forever eclipse the joy I felt exactly 3 years before, posing in the backyard with my entire family in matching CustomInk.
Thankfully, it didn’t. It’s been a while since our family had a coordinated reunion but each year at this time, I carry them all with me. I still mourn my grandmother’s death, but my lasting gratitude overshadows any sorrow. When I think of her, I feel grateful for rushed goodbyes, and Splenda good mornings. I’m grateful for cramped car rides with knees pressing against the passenger seat. I’m even grateful for my sickest of sick days, when she made soup and reheated it three times before I made it to the kitchen. Most of all, I am grateful for my faith, which lets me think of her like the weekend. It’s unclear what next time will look like, but I know it’s coming.
On Wednesday I’ll be traveling to Miami for their Carnival parade celebration. By and large, it’ll be a gathering of my generation: cousins sans mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Although it’s not the same as having the entire Hyacinthe line on one deck, it’s sure to be another warm memory anchored in this time of year. Selfish motives aside, I can’t think of a better birthday gift.