I’ve finally had a chance to unwind from our trip to Maryland to celebrate Aria’s first birthday. Although, this day of rest wasn’t exactly voluntary. Traveling in the middle of flu season is always a risky move, and it has gotten the best of me this time. So I’m taking a day to recoup while downing multiple bowls of chicken soup.
I figured since I wasn’t doing anything productive aside from rewatching every episode of Dawson’s Creek, I might as well write a post recapping Aria’s first birthday.
Her birthday went nothing like I expected, but a lot like I had hoped. I tried really hard not to make assumptions on how I thought I might feel on her birthday because grief is so unpredictable that there is no point in forecasting it. I figured it was best to let the chips fall where they may, and handle each emotion as it came.
My biggest hope for her birthday was that it would be celebratory. After all, a birthday is about celebrating birth. It is about your entrance into the world regardless of how long a life was lived or even if a baby was born still. A birth is a birthday.
Because of this, I wanted to separate Aria’s birth and death into two separate events. This was so hard to do since they both occurred during the same afternoon. So I kept reminding myself that we already had a year full of days spent lamenting the loss of her. This day, her birthday, was about life. Although, it would have been just fine if I spent the day crying my eyes out. All of these things are displays of love, and that is completely ok.
I woke up that morning in a brief state of shock. Could it be? A year, already? I couldn’t believe we had survived a full twelve months since saying, “See you later, Aria.” For a year that had so many grueling days, it went by incredibly fast.
We had several errands to run before we were to meet with friends and family at the cemetery at 4:15, so we got up and hit the ground running. Our first stop was a local party supply store to pick up a few pink balloons. While the sales associate was filling our balloons with helium he asked, “Are these for a little girl’s birthday?” I smiled and said, “Yep!” I was so grateful for that moment. I didn’t have to say anything about Aria not being physically present for her party, or share that she had died. I got one brief moment of normal motherhood and I relished in it.
After that, Brian and I picked up her cake, then came back to my parents house to set up everything and prep the food. I kept asking Brian if we were doing too much. I couldn’t help but wonder, would people think we were crazy for throwing such a big party for a little girl who has passed away? But Brian was so persistent in reminding me that it did not matter what anyone else thought. We have every right to continue parenting Aria beyond the grave, and anyone who has walked in our shoes would completely understand.
I knew I was running out of time and needed to hop in the shower. But when I looked at the clock, I realized I needed to wait a few minutes. It was almost 3:06 PM, the exact time Aria came earth side. Brian and I stood in the kitchen waiting for the clock to strike 3:06. It did, stayed that way for sixty seconds, then changed to 3:07. I was somewhat surprised and disappointed time didn’t stop. It sure seemed to one year ago.
Finally the time had come for us to make our way to the cemetery to meet our friends and family. I was not pleased that it was raining, but as my best friend so eloquently stated, “Aria can’t give us a rainbow without a little rain.”
While at the cemetery, we stood by her grave that was covered in pink flowers. I read a letter I had written for Aria, specifically for this day. We then prayed the same prayer that our Chaplain at the Children’s Hospital had written on the day we said our final goodbyes to Aria’s body. We wished her a happy birthday, and reminded her that she is so loved.
We also decided to do something we had debated about for quite some time. While I was still in the early stages of pregnancy, Brian and I agreed that we wanted to ask our friends M and T (names withheld for privacy) if they would be Aria’s godparents. Our lives became so hectic once Aria was diagnosed, we never had the chance to ask them before she passed. We figured there wasn’t a point after that. But over the last year, they acted exactly as Godparents do. They made it a point to visit Aria’s grave when they were in town, sent us pictures of her beautiful decorations, stood bravely beside us as we battled with grief, and refused to let us walk alone. They were already her Godparents, whether they knew it or not. So as we all stood around her grave, we finally asked the question that never really needed to be asked, “Will you be Aria’s Godparents?” And they accepted.
Then we all went back to my parents house where we ate, talked, laughed, and celebrated. I loved that despite such unique circumstances, it still felt like a normal party. It felt right, and it felt good.
At the end of the meal, we gathered around the tv and watched a video that I had been working on for a few months. It was a collection of our most sacred memories from Aria’s life. We loved being able to share those moments with our loved ones.
Of course, all good parties need cake, and this one was no different. We had a little vanilla cake with an elephant on top. The elephant was so perfect for our little girl, as it also wore a pink bow and clutched a yellow blankie. We lit a glittery pink “1” candle on her cake, and handed out candles for all of our guests. We asked each of them to make a special wish in honor of Aria after we sang “Happy Birthday” and the traditional Rose family birthday song. It was a beautiful moment of remembrance and celebration.
I can’t thank everyone enough for all of their prayers, birthday wishes, and the kind gestures we received. The love we received that day was overwhelming in the greatest way. I know there are many people who wish they could have been with us physically, but your love was still felt. I believe the day would have been so different if we hadn’t felt so supported by so many wonderful people. You held our broken hearts together so we could focus on celebrating Aria. As Brian and I were preparing for bed that evening, he said, “My heart feels full.” And I replied, “Me too.” I think that was the greatest gift of all.