Today would be your 40th birthday, Nina. If you were still around, we would celebrate with crabs and cake or pizza and movies or cuddles and ice cream cake from Hoffman’s. We would gather together and pig out and laugh. We all know that we would have started celebrating on the first of the month since you don’t celebrate your birthDAY so much as your birthMONTH.
If you were still around, I would have found some pretty yarn or a beautiful scarf or some fragrant tea to give to you. I’d have my kids draw you birthday cards and bake you a cake. We would come visit you and my sticky kids, smelling like summer, would snuggle beside you on the couch while Criminal Minds or Law and Order plays on the TV even though no one is watching.
If you were still around, your laugh would be more than just a memory and your smile would be more than a mental photograph. Your hugs would still warm me up from the outside in. Your raised eyebrow would still make me aware of my stupidity and your mom face would still even the most unruly child.
If you were still around, you would have opinions on the new Harry Potter book. You’d have a list of summer reading books to tell me about and suggest to me. You’d have a million knitting projects, some for my children and all of them for people other than yourself. And I would still wonder how you have time for all of that.
If you were still around, I could talk to you about everything. I could teach you all about what I learned in Botany this summer and we could compare our tiny gardens and jealously poke fun at Jes’ green thumb. I would tell you all the goofy things my kids say during the day. (Like the other day, Joe was wearing a skirt and he said, “I wearing girl clothes, but I still boy because I wiener.”) You would make me miss my treadmill time because you’d come over too early or too late for me to get on it without being rude, just like you used to make me miss my nap times. And I wouldn’t care.
If you were still around, I wouldn’t worry about people and relationships so much. I wouldn’t be so self conscious about my introverted nature because I know you would fill me in on who is who and why I should care and what I should be praying about. I wouldn’t be so isolated because you’d force me to do social things and go places. (I just hosted a LuLaRoe party because I thought it was the kind of thing you’d make me do.)
If you were still around, I’d be happy. I had to delete that sentence a hundred times and rewrite it. I am happy, Nina. Without you here. I am happy. But that happiness was hard to come by. That happiness took extra work. This happiness was the hard-fought, snatched from the claws of anxiety and depression, sunlight through the storm clouds kind. I think you wouldn’t want me to be sad without you, but you should know it’s a different kind of happiness.
Since you’re not around, I am teaching my children about strength. I’m teaching them to love and cherish their siblings even when they are the most obnoxious people they know. I am teaching them about the realities of the weaknesses of the human body and how they can’t stop us from being happy. I’m teaching them to love reading and imagination and information. I am teaching them to take care of each other and to always use “secret” ingredients in recipes. I’m teaching them to hug and cuddle all the time. I’m teaching them that one of the strongest, most amazing women I know was their Aunta Nina and that they have incredible lessons to learn from her story. I feel the most sad for Maggie because I know that you two would enjoy each other so much (at least as long as neither one of you is pouting).
Nina, I love you and you are remembered. You are cherished and adored. You will not – CANNOT – be forgotten or ignored. You are still a force of nature and an immovable object. You are still incredible and beautiful and strong. You still make everyone pale by comparison. You were so brilliant with light while you were alive, that you still give off light years after your death – like a star who’s light is visible from Earth even though, light years away, it doesn’t glow anymore.
Happy birthday, old woman. We love you. Sending you kisses and steamed crabs in heaven.