Things are well at our house, at least when it comes to cupcakes. Every fall, our family picks coloured leaves, sharpens pencils, and gets ready for the first of two clustered birthday seasons. We make a little banner for the kitchen, tie balloons to the appropriate chair, and talk cake, parties, and sprinkles. I came from a family that does birthdays simply and married into one that does birthdays large. Birthdays are always an invitation to me to drink deeply from the well, to remember that life is worth celebrating – even when it takes effort.
It is curious to me that celebrations make me think most of extra effort. In addition to the regular work of life, within four weeks every fall, we fit in three cakes, three morning Happy Birthday songs, three sets of presents, three little parties, three icing and sprinkle messes. It is well and it is overwhelming. Grief adds holding back tears to the list of things to do.
My birthday is in the middle of the three, a birthday I will celebrate alone for the first time in my life. I have been dreading it for 158 days. 3 more to go. As our littlest blew out her three candles last week, tears of gratitude and grief welled up in my eyes. I thought, I’m so glad we were born.
Twins are a miracle. Two where only one was expected. Like ordinary siblings in many ways, and different. And the death of one twin, where life was expected, has siphoned much of the colour out of my world. Things are not well because she is not well. It feels like such betrayal to be well if she is not.
I cannot phone her to tell her about the funny things the kids did today. Her laughter will never again pull me out of self-pity. Her kids never get to be tucked in by their mom again. And still, there are candles on cupcakes and purple icing on fingers and walls. A free editing app lets me colour just the purple and the girl in a birthday photograph and it feels eerily like my world.
Death has left tears just below the surface of my eyes at every moment. The days pass but my heart feels stuck in April. The strangest things remind me of a person who no longer lives and breathes. And then I am walking along a path at the zoo and I remember my feet walking this same path with Abbie, us laughing about her sandals falling apart. Her feet will never walk the path again. Gray falls over the whole beautiful fall day.
And then I see my own little turquoise flats against the pavement. And Charlize’s little purple sandals. Our feet will. Our feet are walking here and now. A little colour. It takes effort to see it, and discipline to want to. Not everything is well, but something is.
Grief is not the first experience to paint gray over my world. Not getting the right coloured cup was nearly the end of the world in my young life. Being assigned to group work in high school often wrecked weeks of potential contentedness. Post-partum depression threatened to pull me into a hole, and my family with me. Unemployment as a reality in our marriage makes the whole world seem cold and scary.
Julian of Norwich wrote that “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” My cynical self wonders if her sister was ever murdered. But I know that I know that she is right. I know that even when things feel gray and weary, beyond hope, there is a hope – a well -that is bigger and deeper than I can see. I know because right in the middle of my gray some tiny burst of colour pushes its way through.
There is a Well beneath and above me where all is well and all will be well. I am learning that my internal peace depends not on the external circumstances of my life so much as my letting go into what is good, especially when it feels like blessedly little. That purple icing and the girl hiding her face behind the cupcake stand is so well my heart could break open from love just watching her. For just this moment, it is well with my soul. And that well is truer than the gray, and it is worth the effort.
I am so glad my littlest was born. I am grateful that the celebration of her birth reminds me that it is good to be born and to live, especially because death awaits us all. One of us twins might never have been born, and perhaps this pain could have been avoided. But we were born, and we have lived, and so much of it has been so bright, so filled with colour and laughter and grace. I live still, as does she, though differently.
That little bit of colour is a sign that something is well and that wellness is a spring from which more wellness will come. For three more days, and for days after that, I will make the effort to let it be well, and I will let that wellness spread over the gray.