I have a confession to make.
I ruined my own birthday by being irritable, spiteful and, in certain moments, simply mean.
Surely it was a snowball effect. It came from one thing after another, accumulating until BAM! It exploded. I believe that’s true, but it’s not a very good defense. The end result was still an explosion.
The morning of my birthday I woke up feeling feverish and stressed about all the things I needed to finish this week before we fly out on Friday. My brain was a broken record, on non-stop in the background as I drove, as I taught, even during the kids’ Christmas recital: “recital then grocery store then pick up Marco from the station then cook either the risotto or the gnocchi then Marco’s friends come remember to print photos then sleep then Wednesday up to prep dinner with his parents before work then work then packing and remember to get the Christmas cards then…..”
Maybe some of you can relate.
As the day went on my already scratchy voice became all but inaudible. I was losing my voice the last two days of school and I felt that I couldn’t call in sick because I had already asked for two days in order to fly home. At the same time, it’s impossible to teach with no voice. My broken record changed to: “recital then grocery store and what can I do for my voice then get Marco from the station and what am I going to do if it doesn’t get better by tomorrow then cook then make a tea and magically have a voice again then…”
By the time I got home I was even more anxious and in pain. From there, it only took a second to pick a fight with Marco.
Of course I’m defending myself, it’s only human nature and hey, it’s my blog. But there’s more to it than that. If I want to defend myself then I think I have to admit the truth: Everything is marked by my dad’s death, including birthdays.
My birthday was two months to the day since he has passed. It’s my first birthday without him. Just like it was my first Thanksgiving without him and the first time I Skyped with mom knowing he wasn’t there and the first time of everything without him.
When I first came back from America after his funeral this October, I gave a wane smile to the teachers who asked how I was doing. “Fine, fine. We’re all fine,” I’d say. “I’m thankful I was able to go home.” It seemed to work as an acceptable response, until another expat teacher looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, but be sure to give yourself time to grieve. Sometimes being so far away can make it seem less real.” I avoided her gaze.
The truth is, I don’t feel strong enough to “grieve” right now. If I think about it I cry. So I try not to think about it as much as possible. My colleague was right, being so far away makes it easy for me to go on with my life as if nothing has changed. I’ve been far away from my parents for three years and on my own for four years before that as well. Maybe it’s the same as always. I can ignore it. I can avoid it. I can push any and all grieving to the side.
But with my trip to America looming, I felt the noose tightening. I’d be home for Christmas, but I’d be home without him. On a holiday that celebrates family togetherness more than anything, it will be impossible to push aside my sadness. It will be impossible to try not to remember that my dad is no longer with us. As overjoyed as I am at going home, I am also slightly dreading it. It hurts to grieve, and now I’ll no longer be able to push it off.
The Internet tells me that the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Maybe that’s true, but at any given moment I feel a mixture of all five emotions. Forced denial and an excess of anger. An overwhelming desire to never leave the house again and a calm delivery of sentences in the past tense regarding my father. My dad is dead and I’m fucking pissed off.
The Internet also says, “Our grief is as individual as our lives.”
I’m sure that’s true, I’m just sorry that this time my grief came out so ugly. The day after my birthday I woke up completely mute. I had lost my voice entirely and definitely couldn’t teach. Even more stressed, it also forced me to slow down. It gave me time to realize what the scene I made the night before truly stemmed from. Losing my voice was out of my control. In a way, so is my grief.
So my grief ruined my birthday – I ruined my own birthday – but I don’t need to let it ruin my Christmas home.
My dad was king of idiomatic expressions, but there’s one classic dad-saying that always got straight to the point:
“It doesn’t cost a penny to be nice.”
As I fight through my grief this Christmas season, that’s the one I’ll try to keep in mind.