The ‘Year of Firsts’ is coming to a close.

Today would have been my mom’s 62nd birthday. Except, two days after her 61st birthday, she passed away rather unexpectedly.

NLS 25

My mom’s birthday, 2008.

So my Year of Firsts (first ____ without my mom) started right before Thanksgiving. That wasn’t so bad, because we hadn’t spent Thanksgiving together in years. Plus, neither of us particularly loved that holiday, since it tended to be one fraught with Drama (capital D intended). But right after that came Christmas. Anyone who knew my mom knew she was crazy about Christmas. Even people who’d never met my mom might remember an editorial I wrote for The Review, my college newspaper, about my Jewish mother’s obsession with Christmas lights. (That piece got me into some hot water with several members of Hillel, who found it really insulting and disrespectful to their faith.)

After Christmas comes New Year’s, of course; 2014 was the first that my mom would never see. And a few weeks after that, I celebrated my birthday. Nearly every year, my mom would call me at 11:59 a.m. – the exact moment I was born – and sing me her special birthday song:

Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Kings and queen and princes too
Wanna wish the best for you
So whaddya say, whaddya say
Happy birthday – to you!
People dying everywhere
Children crying everywhere
So happy birthday – uh
Happy birthday – uh
Granny cut your toenails, you’re ripping the sheets – cha!

(This is how I think the song went, anyway. At least, it’s the best reconstruction that my godmother Jan and I could come up with. They learned the song at Camp Kippewa, where they spent most of their girlhood summers, but Google searches have turned up nothing.)

So my birthday came and went, and nobody sang me the song, but I was in Texas with my best friend for our fourth annual birthday trip and was able to distract myself fairly easily. After that, there was a bit of a lull in the Year of Firsts.

Then, in March, it was our anniversary. I had some anxiety then because of the anniversary cards. At our wedding, we had 25 cards that guests were asked to fill out to wish us a happy anniversary for 25 years to come. Kind of like this, only we made ours ourselves. My friend Marian was in charge of handing out the cards, and I asked her to not tell us who she gave each year to because I wanted it to be a surprise.

My mom didn’t like the first year that Marian assigned her. She got really upset at the wedding, at one point crying because she knew she wouldn’t be around when I opened it. I still don’t know the year, but I’m guessing it was one of the big ones – probably 20 or 25. So Mar ended up giving her a second card to fill out, one with a lower number, because Momma was sure she’d be here for that one.

There’s a card from Marian in the box, too. Marian, who also passed away unexpectedly, in June 2012, and whose death left an enormous hole in so many people’s hearts.

So now I have this box of cards with greetings from ghosts, and I can’t tell if the cards were one of the smartest things I did at the wedding (I’ll get loving messages from people even after they’re gone) or stupidest things (yearly anxiety wondering if this message is going to make me smile or bawl like a baby or both).

Turns out Year 2 belonged to my friend Carolee and her husband Chuck. And I already know Year 3 belongs to Candace, one of my oldest and dearest friends, because she still hasn’t filled it out yet. (She also nabbed a second year, 19 I think, and hasn’t filled that one out either.) So I know I won’t open a message from Mar or my mom for at least another 16 months.

I was in New Orleans for Mother’s Day, at the International Reading Association’s Annual Conference. People kept wishing me a happy Mother’s Day, and each well-intended greeting was like a knife in my heart, for multiple reasons. But I was working, and the work kept me busy and distracted for the most part.

And then…nothing. For the next five and a half month, there were no major Firsts. Just random things that would happen. Like, when my husband and I couldn’t find our orbital sander, we thought we’d loaned it to Wendy. But she didn’t have it. And then I had this image of showing it to my stepfather at Christmas, but he didn’t know what I was talking about. A little bit later, I realized it was my mom who’d borrowed it, just a few weeks before she passed. And this made me sob uncontrollably for hours.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, it hit me that we were coming up on the final two Firsts: her birthday and the one-year anniversary of her death. The double whammy of both being only two days apart started to back up on me last Saturday. We’d gone to the movies with my college roommate Jen and her husband Brian, to see St. Vincent. There was a line in the movie that reminded me of my mom’s eulogy and I started crying and couldn’t stop until the credits rolled.

There have been a lot of crying jags the past several days. Yesterday, inexplicably, I started bawling while listening to the Frozen soundtrack (conceal, don’t feel); later, it was a DVR’d episode of Parenthood that left me sobbing.

Yesterday, I fought to stay awake. Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep. And then, this morning, Facebook reminded me that Nancy Stone had a birthday today. A couple of people left messages on her wall – not heartfelt ones, mind you, but the automatic “happy bday” that a lot of people seem to leave based on the reminders. People who clearly didn’t know my mom was gone, or didn’t care enough to remember.

So I opted to memorialize her account. Basically, it freezes a person’s Facebook page. You can’t log in any more, but nothing disappears. Next year on her birthday, no one will get a reminder from FB. And once the memorialization request is approved, my mom won’t appear in the “People You May Know” boxes, either. People can still leave her messages on her timeline, though, and even send private messages that no one else will ever be able to read.

And that’s that. I’ll be observing my mom’s birthday by having brunch with my stepfather. And then I’ll go home and pay some bills and make a grocery list and life will go on, because that’s what life does.

I still miss my mom every day. Sometimes, I almost forget that she’s dead. It feels more like she’s in Florida with her friend Charlotte, and has been too busy to call.

Those are the worst times – not the feeling like Florida thing but the sharp stab that comes every time I think I will never see her again. Never hug her again. Never make her laugh, not ever again.

Happy birthday, Momma. I love you.

Always.

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