To My Mother on Her Birthday

Hi Mom,

It’s April 16th, a date that will be forever engraved in my mind and on my heart as your birthday.  Oh how you wanted to be feted on your special day and oh how you feted us, on ours. You always made me feel like my birthday was the one day where even the most outrageous dreams and wishes just might come true…a day rife with possibility.  I still feel that way about my birthday, yes, even at my age, and I know you felt that way about yours too. It was meant to be a day of magic and fun with great expectation.

You were such an awesome gift giver and always came up with the exact right thing.   I knew you wouldn’t let me down!  So it was sometimes a challenge to come up with something equally as cool or thoughtful for you, and I know you yearned for the magic, too.  I like to think I always came through in the end with a gift that would make you smile, and please your heart when you opened it. And you know what?  I feel satisfied that I did.  I know this because I now have so many of the pressies back in my possession.  In honor of your birthday I put out the art glass tulip plate I’d given you about ten years ago when we lived near Holland, Michigan.  You loved tulips and the spectacular Holland tulip festival, and wonderfully cool art glass creations.  I have the art glass vase on the tabletop across the room.  I have the cool, semi-vintage turquoise and amethyst necklace I chose for you a few years back.  I’m cherishing these things for you now,  because you don’t need them in Heaven.  And I’m looking over at the plate as I’m writing at this very moment… it’s a poignant reminder of you.

 You were born in the Spring, and you died in the Spring.  I really hated that your final journey was in Springtime.  I hated trudging into the hospital where you lay dying while the daffodils and tulips were pushing through the soil in the beds that cheerfully surrounded the building.  I suppose there really is no good time to die, but certainly not Spring, the season of rebirth.

But wait.  

Rebirth is exactly what death – as you believed, and taught to me – means… that you’ve arrived…at your place, with the Lord, and to be there in joy for all eternity.

When you were dying I learned that you’d actually been born on an Easter Sunday.  A few days after you’d died we realized it had been Ascension Thursday.  I like to think that this was a spiritual gift for you, and for us.  You loved the Lord with all your heart, never once wavered, all your life.  Your faith, and the practice of it, came so easily to you.  It’s not that way for me. I fight for it every day, but I do believe.   You just believed with such ease, though,  and lived your whole life true to the Creed.

And when it came time for you to leave us, even your leave-taking was peaceful.  The only thing that made watching you go easier (if you could call it that) was that you didn’t appear to suffer; you seemed peaceful.  And then you went home to Heaven on the anniversary of the date that Christ ascended there.  To the place He promised would be our home of peace and joy for all of time.  So: born on Easter and died on Ascension Thursday.  For a woman who lived her life as faithfully as you did, I feel strongly that these dates have a deeper significance than mere coincidence.

I spent your last birthday on Earth with you in the hospital.  Even though you weren’t aware that it was your birthday, I couldn’t bear to not have a present for you.  But what to get a dying mother who was slowly leaving all things material, behind?  Mom, I shopped in Kroger.  It was heart-rending, really, to be shopping for your birthday in the grocery store, but I was up and down that personal care aisle looking for something that would be relevant and of some comfort to you. It wouldn’t have felt right, given the reality of your life at that time, to come to you with a gaily wrapped, uselessly superficial present from a nice shop or gallery. Your needs were basic and your wants…well, I don’t think you wanted for  anything.  So,  I chose a box of Pond’s Facial Cleanser Cloths, and a pair of fuzzy socks. I knew you liked it when I would give you  the warm cloth facial every night in the hospital, and I thought you’d might appreciate your feet being cozy even if you really didn’t care from a practical point of view.  I wrapped these presents in your home, in your well-stocked gift wrap center, where a last minute daughter could always find some great selection of wrapping paper, ribbon and tape.  I’d hastily wrapped many a present there in your basement, over the years. 

I lay the gifts on your hospital bed, and helped as you gamely struggled to take off the ribbon although I don’t believe you understood it was your birthday.  I knew it didn’t matter anymore.  I needed to do it honor you though, because it was your birthday, your final birthday, and because I was there, with you.  

I hated to say goodbye to you, too, on your birthday, but I’d had to return to my home in Florida, having spent three weeks with you. It was just a twist of fate and a scheduling fix that sent me home on April 16.  But I was glad to have been with you to hold your hand,  on your last birthday, Mom.  Somewhere deep inside, though, you did comprehend the intimacy. I know you did.  We’ve all remarked on it:  the fact that you seemed to understand even though you were blissfully protected from the passage of time, and fear of the future.  Was it your faith, the ultimate partner, Jesus, who walked by your side from this world into the next?  Your family was with you every step of the way, your sweet husband nurturing you until the end.

I called Dad today, as I do most days, and wished him, “Happy Mom’s Birthday,” which he liked, I think.  It’s hard to think of him living without you  in the house, Mom, and I can’t believe this is your second birthday we’ve observed without you here.  But I want you to know that April 16 will always be Your Day and my gift to you is this letter.


Your beachlife daughter.  

And your last birthday gift to me? Those lovely starfish earrings. Did you know I was going to go all ‘beachlife’ on  you somehow?!

(A post-edit p.s.:  my mom is wearing the aforementioned necklace in the photo above.  Didn’t plan it that way; I simply noticed it after I’d written the letter and uploaded the picture.)


  1. Rosie says:

    I cried while reading. How do we survive without our parents?

  2. Marny in Maryland says:

    Jeannie —

    What a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Lovely, Jeannie, just lovely.

  4. Maria in Mass says:

    What a wonderful picture and tribute. I wasn’t able to see your parents when they visited, something I will always regret. It highlights just how precious time is.

    Cousin Maria

  5. Marji says:

    Oh Jeannie, your mom was lovely and your tribute was lovely and I’m all weepy because today is my mom’s birthday and she’s just flat wearing out. Gah. Too hard.

  6. Katie says:

    Beautiful! Your mom was lucky to have a daughter like you!

  7. Owlhaven says:

    Hey, Jeannie, this was precious. My dad’s birthday is April 20th– he died the year Amanda was born, but he would have been 70 this year.



  8. Sink says:

    I love the picture of you and your mother. Such great smiles, side by side.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I’m glad that you have so many tangible initiators of good memories.
    Love, sink

  9. Mari says:

    i arrived at your site by way of cj’s blog. as i was going to comment on her adoption blog and reading the other posts in regard to adoption, a interest of mine and our family, i read yours and wanted to read more.

    i cried my way through this beautiful memorial honoring your beautiful mom. you remind me so much of myself in what i did and do for mt dad while he was living and while he was dying in a hospital bed. we still go out to dinner on his birthday, his favorite mexican and order nachos which he always ordered before the main meal. my children still call grandma to tell her ‘happy grandaddy’s birthday”.

    blessings, mari

  10. redthread says:

    Jeannie – That was just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it. Colleen

  11. Sue says:

    Also from cjane’s blog.

    This is a beautiful tribute to your mom. Thanks for sharing it.

    And your sea turtles capture my imagination!


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