February 22: It's Mom's birthday today

Today’s sort of a special episode of Sally’s Circle. It’s February 22, a date that means a lot to me and my family. It’s Sally’s birthday.

Of all the holidays that remind me of Mom, her birthday is one of the hardest. Birthdays are super-happy celebrations in my family. We always go out to dinner, give cards and presents, and blow out candles. It’s a time for family and togetherness and laughter. It’s strange to feel sad on a holiday that was always so happy.

So, on February 22, I often can’t help but imagine what we would do today if Mom were still alive. Maybe I’d go home to Long Island to go to Tofu, Mom’s favorite Chinese restaurant. Or maybe Mom and Dad would have a new favorite restaurant in Long Island. Or maybe since Jordan (my bro) and I both live in the city now, Mom and Dad would drive in to Manhattan and we’d try someplace new. It would definitely be the 4 of us. Or maybe Mom would ask if Mark wanted to come, too, and he’d say yes because he liked her so much and thought she was so funny. Dinner would be filled with trading hilarious stories and Mom would probably say something flirty to the cute waiter, and I’d feign total embarrassment, and then later brag to all my friends about how she gets more and more ridiculous every year.

Tomorrow I will go home to Long Island. My dad, brother, and I have a tradition where we go to the cemetery together on her birthday (we also go in August on the anniversary of when she died). We spend a little time there, anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes or so. We talk about how old she’d be now (65 – shh, don’t tell her I told you), the things she liked (teaching, the Gap, Seinfeld), the things we miss (her stories, her laugh). Sometimes we remember the funeral or sitting shiva or nice things other people said about her. We debate whether this year it feels like she’s been gone a long time or short time (after all, what is 6 years?). I usually spend most of the time talking to Mom in my head, telling her what’s going on in my life and imagining her responses. Before we leave, Dad says “We miss you” and makes sure we all hug. He’s such a good dad.

After the cemetery, we go to a diner and eat lunch. At lunch, we don’t usually talk about Mom or the past. We talk about the present: Jordan’s real estate business, my job or how Mark’s doing, dad’s girlfriend Susan, recent things in the news, etc. It’s general, comfortable, run-of-the-mill talk. And I think it’s usually good for all of us to just spend time together without necessarily dwelling on the birthday. After all, that’s what the cemetery was for. I think we get most of it out there.

So, with the Saturday Night Live closing music buzzing from my living room TV, I’ll also bid you goodnight. Wish me luck tomorrow, but don’t worry about me. I think it’ll be OK.

Do you have any traditions that bring you comfort? How do you feel about going to the cemetery? Do you feel like that person is there, or not really?