(Originially posted on Facebook 10/4/14)
I wrote this blog in October of 2014, just prior to the first time we would observe Katie and Bethany’s birthdays without them. Today, October 19, is Katie’s 19th birthday, the third since her death at age 16. I have yet to find a satisfactory way to celebrate the girls’ birthdays in their absence. We’ve left town, bought substitucinary gifts, and simply bought flowers for their graves and balloons to tie to the crosses at the side of the road where they were killed. But no matter what I’ve tried, I just can’t enjoy the day of their births without them. No prettily wrapped presents, no specially requested cake or pie, no candles or off-key singing will mark this day. Memories are bittersweet. But birthdays are empty and hollow, and the absence of their presence is a living and breathing entity in this oh, so quiet house. And so I look back . . .
One of the things that was unique about the David Boxx branch of the Boxx family tree is that our family didn’t have birthdays spread out over the entire twelve month calendar. We had, what I refer to as a “Birthday Season”, since our birthdays all fell one month after the other for five consecutive months. (Well, that’s to say, every member of our immediate family who was born breathing). **See footnote for additional information.
The Birthday Season officially kicked off in August in which my birthday is celebrated, followed by David’s in September, Katie’s in October, and just two weeks later, Bethany’s arrived just squeaking into the month of November, after which Gracen’s was celebrated one week shy of Christmas.
Katie absolutely loved birthdays. One year she set about creating hand made birthday cards for every family member. Inside each card she included a poem she had written about the month of their birth.
From an early age, only a few months after celebrating her birthday, Katie would begin asking how long until her next birthday. As time crept closer to her birthday, she would become increasingly excited. She’d begin making her birthday wish list early and would add to it throughout the month. I recently came across last year’s list written by her own hand – a true “gut check” moment. One year, the day before her birthday (and because I simply loved her excitement and anticipation over it), I told her, “Katie, do you know what today is? It’s Katie Eve!” She loved it!
When Katie was a student at Washington Junior High, she became well known by the ladies who worked in the school office. Every day she passed through the office in order to visit the school nurse and take her daily medication over the lunch hour. The ladies in the office picked up on Katie’s excitement over her birthday and surprised her with a card – and out came that bright, brilliant smile for which she was so well known. It was pure sunshine!
These days, as Katie and Bethany’s birthdays draw close, I’ve been thinking about the best way to commemorate their individual birthdays. The decision is complicated because how it is handled must take into consideration each member of the family, what each of us individually needs, realizing that what helps one may be painful for another.
Is a balloon release emotionally helpful or hurtful for David, for Gracen, for me? Is it a comfort to eat cake and acknowledge the day, or is it less painful to avoid it altogether – to pretend it’s just another day like any other? Does avoidance more profoundly underscore their absence? This is something with which I continue to struggle.
So far I’ve made only one decision; a decision to do for another child what I can no longer do for two of my own. Children’s Therapy T.E.A.M., the clinic where Gracen has received such over-the-top care, has a deep concern for children with special needs that extends far beyond the borders of northwest Arkansas. TEAMworks is CTT’s non-profit outreach – follow the link to learn more: http://teamworksteam.org/about/who_we_are.
In preparation for an upcoming trip to Guatemala, a bulletin board in the Bentonville clinic was covered with pictures of disabled Guatemalan children, TEAMworks version of the popular Christmas Angel Tree program.
The day the bulletin board caught my attention, only two of the remaining pictures were of young girls. On the back side of each picture was a name and picture of a toy specifically selected with that child in mind. Immediately, I realized that while this year I am incapable of selecting and gifting Bethany and Katie with birthday presents designed to bring them pleasure and reinforce that they are loved, I can do that for another child who might otherwise never receive a gift personally selected with them in mind. I believe Bethany and Katie would approve.
**Celebrating Cole’s birthday, was largely a solitary endeavor observed by me alone. Not to say that David ignored the observance of his son’s birth, he is just less inclined to talk about the deep wounds of his heart and let’s face it, to die on your day of birth does have a tendency to put a damper on any kind of celebration. The girls were of course aware of their older brother, but since he was our firstborn, his life was a bit obscure from their perspective I suppose, and after our move to Bentonville, it was too far to travel to decorate his grave, which all three girls did with me prior to that point in time.