It’s Elodie’s birthday tomorrow, and I’m the only one still up. I’m sitting here with a hot chocolate and my computer, having just blown up some balloons and fixed birthday banners to the spot on the wall next to the stairs, where they always go.
It’s been our tradition since Juliette’s 5th birthday. Her French godfather, Nicolas, bought her a banner saying “Joyeux Anniversaire,” and on every birthday since that one we have put this banner and others up on the wall, with balloons, so they’re the first thing the birthday person sees when they came out of their bedroom in the morning.
Blowing up balloons late at night, looking for blu-tak and trying to untangle dog-eared strings for the banners on your own is a bit joyless. I thought of not doing it this year, or at least of replacing some of the decorations. Elodie’s going to be 17 after all and I know for a fact that I bought one of these banners for her 6th birthday party. I couldn’t though. Elodie has an almost angry attachment to things and traditions, and defends them with ferocity. She anchors herself to solid stuff and to certainties, and to guess at why. She understands the essential impermanence of things and change frightens her, but keeping the same birthday decorations is something she can control.
Maybe I read too much into things. Over the past couple of blog-quiet weeks I’ve had particular reasons to think about my own feeling towards change. I find I’m not afraid of it. I think it’s a sickening strength I’ve gained from surviving Juliette’s death when I didn’t believe, back then, that it was possible. I know it’s a strength that has the potential to make me reckless. There’s no pride in it. In fact, there’s a bit of shame, as though finding the strength to survive is a betrayal of the child I lost, and an implicit betrayal of the children I still have. How can you survive, as a mother, when your child dies? Should you even want to?
I know that to survive, you do have to want to. You grab the reason from a basket of possibilities; you live to bear witness that your child was here, to change the world for the better, raise money or promote a cause. My reason was our other children. I knew my life was over, but I could not accept this fact for Juliette’s sister and brothers. They are still my reason for surviving, but my life is not over. It’s altered beyond anything I imagined, but there are still people to love and experiences to have. All pretty good reasons to hang about.
The ‘Joyeux’ of the French birthday banner came adrift last year, and tonight I couldn’t find the word anywhere. For once, this is not me scratching around for symbols and I just hope that the multi-coloured, foiled letters of ‘Anniversaire’ are enough for Elodie. I rather like the way it looks and yes, I like what the word means to us all.