We celebrated my daughter Isabelle’s fifth birthday last week. I thought I felt much better than I did last year — happy and excited for the festivities, as opposed to our first year without Ian when I wanted nothing to do with celebrations of any kind. In my conscious mind I felt joy and pride over my first-born turning five!
But coming off of my “party high” this week, I’ve felt all the pain just below the surface. And amidst the glee of the celebrations, I now realize that my body was telling me this all along. I felt sensations of irritability, tenseness and at times almost suffocation— yet I pushed these feelings aside to have a good time.
Izzy is part Ian. Her mere biology connects me to him. And while I expected to be and truly felt happy at my daughter’s birthday, how could I also not expect and feel the grief of Ian’s absence?
The truth that I continue to embrace is that we can feel BOTH.
It’s learning how to cope and make space for all of the emotions and feelings coming up at once, and figuring out how to allow people to support me when they do.
Izzy had a wonderful birthday this year! She missed daddy like she always does, but her focus was mainly on what party dress to wear, her sparkly tiara, all of her new toys, her Frozen Elsa cake, and the friends and family who surrounded all of us.
Just like last year, I wrote Izzy a letter so that she has the gift of this snapshot in time in her life. Read last year’s letter here.
And as much as these birthday letters are gifts intended for my children, they are also gifts for me. I feel more grounded, more grateful and more amazed at how much I can learn from these tiny human beings every time I write one.
If you choose to read my letter below, I hope you find a gift in it too!
September 18, 2020 (the year the world ended — I’ll explain to you later … )
Happy Birthday! As of September 18, 2020 (not to be confused with December as you’ve been saying until recently) you are officially FIVE YEARS OLD! I could not be more proud and grateful to have such a kind, intelligent, independent, creative and FUN daughter.
Right now, your main interests are unicorns, Frozen, swimming, playing with your stuffed animals (especially your puppy who has a new name every day like “Watermelon-Lemon or Strawberry-Snowflake”), singing songs you’re learning in school, and coloring. You are an amazing artist! I love watching you color away, noting the beautiful hues of each unique crayon and smiling just enough to give way to the subtle dimple on your left cheek.
You are a special girl Izzy! Not only are you strong from eating so much broccoli, but you’re brave and courageous. We agree that it’s scary to try new things like playing soccer, but you take risks! I noticed this on your first day of Kindergarten when you said good-bye to me with no tears or fuss, and walked strait to the line outside your classroom. You seemed so grown up patiently waiting all by yourself, not knowing any other students or teachers. I was the one crying! And I’m all grown up!
You are also very inquisitive. Just like daddy, you listen with genuine concern, you pick up on subtle details and ask great questions! Remember Izzy — there is no such thing as too many questions (and if I tell you to stop asking it’s just because I’m exhausted). But seriously — keep asking! Keep discovering the WHY — more importantly keep discovering YOUR why.
Tutu calls you a “can-do” kid! And she’s absolutely right. You are game for just about anything and are always anticipating our next adventure — from outrunning rattlesnakes on hikes in the foothills, splashing in the river rapids, visiting the zoo or dinosaur bones at the museum, or simply playing at our favorite park — you know how to be spontaneous and fun.
Sometimes when we are out, we see other families with two parents, or things that remind you of daddy and you have questions. When we were at Chipotle (one of your favorite restaurants) you saw a man standing in Broncos gear and started to tell him about how daddy died. He didn’t respond back and you asked me why. I answered by telling you that people don’t like to talk about death because it makes them sad and uncomfortable. You seemed confused. So I stooped down and looked at you square in the eyes and said:
It’s ok to talk about daddy.
It’s ok to talk about death.
This is your story and I hope that you own it and live it no matter what.
A few days later when we were at the park, you told a little girl your story. You told her that you didn’t have a daddy. She asked you why?
You looked at me with your big brown eyes almost seeking permission to answer her. I nodded; and the two of you proceeded to have an open, honest, raw conversation about cancer and death — topics most “grown-ups” won’t touch.
Izzy, we are not an ordinary Ohana. We are EXTRAordinary! You, me and Theo are a team and we have people like Jamma and Jampa, our babysitter Hailey, mom’s best friend Taylor who’s part of our “crew”, and tons of aunties and uncles from all over the world (even Australia and Canada) who love and support us.
You still ask me when we are going to get a new daddy and if our new daddy will die. These are tough questions — neither of which I can answer with certainty. So I do my best to explain that most people live until they are very old, but that sometimes we aren’t that lucky. Sometimes people get sick, they have accidents, they die much earlier than we would like them to, and there is nothing that you or me can do about it but be grateful for the time that we have here together. .
This is a hard fact to learn and accept — and you see me cry and lose my temper trying to do so. But you are learning that it’s ok to be sad and angry when we are hurt. You’re learning that in order to feel better, it’s ok to take some alone time, to simply “be”, or do something that feeds your soul — like coloring, listening to music, or playing with your stuffed animals and dolls. For me, this is working out!
There are nights where you still ask me to light a candle for daddy, so we strike a match and sit down on the floor beside your window and look out into the starry night sky. We both make wishes involving daddy, but sometimes you wish for things like being able to fly through clouds and see the rainbows like the unicorns! I tell you that daddy is definitely smiling at your request.
And therein lies the lesson that you teach me daily my sweet Isabelle. It’s that among all of the tears, the shouting into pillows and the longing for our daddy to be here with us, that we can still seek rainbows and unicorns. We can still find magic in whatever devastation life throws our way.
Thank you for helping me believe and see the magic, Izzy.
I love you to the moon, the stars, up to daddy, and back!