« Dress | Main | Cows! »

Almost BirthdayJuly 4, 2008

Last year or the year before my mother called on my birthday and got my cell phone. She sang me a message, which I've been saving every 21 days as it gets close to expiration in my voice mail.

I've been terrified of hearing it. So I listened to it tonight, in my hotel room, a day early. Just to get it over with. I was already crying, what more could it hurt?

Her voice. Her New Zealand accent. She sang, and said she hoped she talked to me later, and told me to have a lovely day.

Her voice was so damn quick on the machine. So bright. So her.

Now that I've started typing, I can't stop crying.

I've been doing so WELL. Being up here working the fires has been great. I'm so far from anything I know, anything I love. I'm so busy and working so hard, learning so much, for long hours. It's driven most other thoughts out of my mind.

My room looks over the Eel River, and the fog is rolling in for the night. I don't know what to do. I love fireworks, never miss them, but do I want to go chase them tonight? In a strange town? I did hear where there'll be a show, but do I want to be around that many happy little families? I don't think I do.

So. Now I've been sitting here for long minutes, staring at this post, watching the fog roll in and the parking lot below fill up with firefighters from all over the nation. I keep writing sentences and erasing them. For some reason, whenever I'm sad about Mom and writing about it here, I think about that ugly email I got the night Mom first got sick (don't go looking for it -- all reference has been deleted). Sometimes now, when writing about Mom, my words feel stifled. I don't want that person to ever read my blog and gloat, reveling that all isn't perfect in my world. But sitting here, watching the sky, I just decided I'm going to stop thinking like that. All is perfect and just as it is supposed to be in my world, even with the loss of one of my favorite people. Underneath the grief, I am happy, as usual, and it makes me sad that there are people out there in the world, who deliberately try to cause other people pain. She even took her email a little further that same awful week, in something I won't write about here -- she was trying yet again to cause pain, but of course she failed in a big way. I'm glad she failed, because she was just being mean-spirited and small. But it makes me sad that she's that sad. It has to be sadness, right? That makes people want to be mean for the fun of it, that disguises itself as mad or hot-tempered or aggrievedly self-righteous or just mean? It's just sadness. It kind of sounds weird, I know, but it makes my heart hurt even more that some people are THIS SAD all the time. That the way I feel tonight is what maybe she feels all the time. I wish that weren't so. For anyone, ever.

Whew. Now that I've thought that out, dealt with the strange feeling that's been holding back my words sometimes, I feel better. The sky outside my window is GORGEOUS now, all pink fog rising above the steely river, the redwoods slanting into the hills. I'm not going to watch fireworks, and I'm fine with that. This year's holidays will be hard, and this is no small exception. So I've run a bath, and I'm going to read my book, and then I'm going to get into my HUGE high-thread-count nice-hotel sheets and watch more ANTM online, because contrary to what Lala says, America's Next Top Model is a better grief tool than old kung-fu movies. Any day. Happy fourth. Tomorrow, happy birthday to me (with all this overtime I'm making up here, I'm getting myself a big ole MOM tattoo. See if I won't). And my birthday wish is peace and joy to all who need it. That's a good wish. Yes.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Almost Birthday:


I am so sorry for your loss. I didn't know someone was nasty to you about your mom's illness, I'm glad I missed that. It makes me deeply sorry that anyone could gloat over your pain. I have been reading your blog for a long time, and it seems to me that you are a very real person, kind and loving and generous. It has always made me happy that you and Lala are in the world.I don't know you, will likely never meet you, but just knowing that you are there, and being the person you are makes me feel good about the world. Thank you, and again, my deepest condolences.

I love you, Rach.

Have a good birthday sweet pea and I'm so sorry you are feeling the loss of your Mom. Nothing I can say can make it better except, while there may be strange, sad (and jealous) people who lash out, there are also strange, nice folks who haven't even met you and are sending you such good thoughts and love.

You are a good egg and deserve wonderful things.

Have the best birthday possible! Holidays will be hard, so much that you almost don't want to bother. Just make sure you're with the people that you love and you'll all work through it. Because you're right, the happy is underneath the sad and it's okay to be happy when you're sad.


Happy birthday to you. I know what you're going through. After my Mom was gone there were moments when I was overcome with such inexplicable hope and happiness, and there IS hope and happiness in my life and I am glad that I embraced it back then. I just concentrate on the living of my life and all the good things that come my way and that's what all great Moms always wanted.

Rachel, a MOM tattoo would be perfect! (This from one with none. I'm shocking myself. LOL) Self-censoring is one thing, but withholding to avoid conflict with a pitiful stranger is not good. Glad you worked it out.

Since it's after midnight here (and afternoon in NZ), I can go ahead and wish you a very happy birthday. I know I don't have to tell you that our loved ones aren't lost when we still hold them in our hearts. Not quite the same as holding them in our arms, but would life be as full if we didn't have the bitter and the sweet together now and again?

Happy Birthday you! ;)

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

I'm glad you have the message from your mom. I have all the emails and a phone message from the best friend I lost 2 1/2 years ago. I'll never get rid of them. It will get easier to hear it over time - but it will never lose its power.

I, Jim, and the cats will be thinking of you and yours


Happy Birthday. Thank you for sharing part of your life with your readers, even when it's hard and even when some of them are ungrateful. You're right about that kind of spitefulness coming from sadness. It's an incredibly freeing thing to be able to feel empathy for those who try to bring you down. When you realize it's all about them, not you, then you are wise and truly free. Even when sometimes those spiteful words still sting a bit.

I hope you know that being overwhelmed with sadness is part of doing well. Doing well isn't just in the happy or neutral moments; doing well is allowing yourself to feel ALL of your feelings.

Take care.

I have never had the type of loss that you are going through, and I dread when it does happen. You are in my thoughts. I seem to remember you and I are very close in age (turning 36, is that right?), and hearing about your mother has made me hug mine that much harder.

When I see my mom tomorrow, I will give her an extra hug in honor of you and your mom. I know the hug will somehow reach you and also wherever your little mama has passed on to.

Happy birthday, Rachel. You are, in the words of an old friend of mine, one of the few true lovelies.

Hugs, hugs, hugs. What a blessing to have that message from your mom.

And, Happy Birthday! Have a lovely day.

Dear Rachel,
I wish you a wonderful birthday. You know, I have written it already. you are like a friend to me so I really wish you all the best. I admire you for your strenght, I don't even manage to read the messages on my cell phone sent to me by the guy who left me alone some weeks ago. I admire you, you are so strong.... Of course one may have luck - but your life is happy because you managed to make it like it is and because you deserve it.
Have a happy birthday, my dear, I think of you!

Kia Ora Rachael. Happy Birthday. You're right: sad is normal for short periods of time. It's corrosive when it doesn't recede naturally.

yes, indeed.
Peace and love and joy, and in appropriate measure, sadness.
A full life, well lived.
Blessings to you!
Thanks for being on the front lines of the FIRES....extra EXTRA blessings for all of you up there!

Happy birthday, Rachael. Your mama sounds lovely. And I love how she helped raise you to be so wonderful.

You're the best. ANTM is good for everything, especially if there is some Jade philosophizing going on. luv j

happy birthday! have the beautiful day your mom would hope for you.and it's ok, to be devastated- that's what happens when you lose something you cherish.
have a GREAT one and thanks for the work you do!!!!

Those first holidays are rough. So are birthdays and getting sick - because no one cares for you like mom when you're sick. I'm thinking of you and hoping you find peace and comfort today. Happy Birthday, my friend.

Sweet Rachel,
We've never met and probably never will but by reading your blog - I almost feel like I know you. You're so honest and sincere in every aspect of what ever you're feeling - when ever. I'm sorry for your loss and grief all you want - no one can take that away from you. Give yourself the privilege of feeling life. It gives you so much - even when it takes away from us.
I wish you a happy and wonderful Birthday. You're up fighting the fires which is a very great thing to do. I'm sure that you will find a way of getting through the day :o)

Happy Birthday from across the world. God Bless you and your loved ones :o)

Birgitte in Denmark


Lots and lots of hugs. It's so hard to lose one's mother. What a treat to have the voicemail message. I wonder if you can save it somewhere more permanent?

I lost my mother when I was 27. Recently, someone suggested I read the book "Motherless Daughters". I often don't go for that sort of thing, but I'm so glad I did. It really helped me through the mourning process (some 12 years after the fact). I don't know if it's your sort of thing (as I said, it wasn't mine) but it's worth a look-see. In fact, if you're interested, I'd be happy to send you my copy.

More and more *HUGS*

Of course, I forgot to wish you a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I know you'll be surrounded by those you love and they'll bring you much joy and happiness - as they always seem to do.

My dad would always call me on my birthday, and if I wasn't home, he'd sing "Happy Birthday" into my answering machine.

I still have his last "Happy Birthday" song to me. I think I'm going to record it off onto something else so I have it in two places.

Happy birthday. (((hugs)))

Happy birthday from faraway South Africa. Live life the way your mom taught you - blessings and peace to you and yours.

Birthday hugs to you, sweetie.

Happy Birthday Rachael and I think a big ole Mom tattoo sounds like the perfect thing.

hugs to you :)

Bless your heart. I'm so sorry that someone was hurtful to you here, but I'm glad that you've found a way to move past that. I share in the joy that is celebrating the life of a loved one, and I share in the sadness that her life on Earth is over.

But I can't WAIT to see your tattoo. :)

Happy birthday, Rachael.

Happy people have the curse of attracting some people that just want to "take them down a notch". My friend Meg suffers that. She is a very happy person and always has a great attitude, but would get these people hating on her because she was too "perky". People don't know how hard her life gets, and how much that stuff hurts her feelings. It's like, they don't realize they are saying these things to a flesh and blood person, not just some online persona. You're dealing with everything in the best way you can.

Happy Birthday, Sweetie. I think a Mom tattoo is a wonderful idea. Mwah!

Sending hugs and birthday wishes, Rachel!

Hugs. Happy Birthday, Rach.

Ditto to all of the above.

smooches to you, girl. happy birthday and once again celebrating what a happy and well-wishes-to-all person you are. truly awe inspiring.

As I always say Relentlessly Happy and Proud of it. And your mama would be sooooo proud of you.

First, I hope your special day is just as fantastic as your mother would have wished for you -- happy birthday!

And I'm honestly shocked that anyone would write a mean email to someone going through a loved one's illness. You're probably right that the person was in her own kind of pain and just wanted to pass it on. I'm an ex-social worker, and I know from Stupid Ways of Dealing with Pain, but honestly. I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry it constrained your voice even a little bit -- because you do have a lovely voice, and it deserves to be heard.
Peace to you...

The tattoo idea sounds awesome. Have the bestest birthday.

Happy birthday, Rach. I'm sending lots of love your way! xoxo

I know it is painful to listen to that recording, but how wonderful that you still have it. Record it off to something else in case you lose it.

Mean people suck. Sums it up doesn't it? =(


Rachael - I hope your birthday is a happy one - as a fellow Pollyanna I can't help but know that's what it'll be. You are SO LUCKY to have your mom's voice. I have a few snippets of VHS of my mom and it's wonderful to hear her. And that beyotch who caused you hurt? She can go to hell. Just sayin.

Rachel, perhaps the customer service folk for your phone could find out how to offload the message for you, if you want to keep it.

Good luck to you and your co-workers, up by the fires.

Wishing you the best for your birthday.

Happy birthday.
Hope you get to go home to La soon, and the fires out on the West coast just stop.

It's a gift to be able to see that "All is perfect and just as it is supposed to be in my world," and to embrace it, thorns and all.

Happy Birthday, and many more.

99% of the time I lurk, but this time I had to speak up. Mean people suck and that will never change. I am so glad you realized that her mean-spiritedness had everything to do with her and NOTHING to do with you. You don't need to carry it around with you because you don't own it, and that makes you a much better person. But you know that obviously. Your words have brightened my day so many times that I wish I could somehow magically brighten yours. Just know that your mom's love is still alive and living inside you. In fact, you just shared it with the world when you showed the compassion that you did towards someone so unkind. So be brave and be sad and be happy too -- just enjoy every moment of every day that you possibly can! xo

You feel such sadness over your mother because you are capable of feeling so much love. At times, it will hit and will seem like more than you can bear.

I love that you are able to see past one person's small-minded meanness. She must be so wrapped up in her own personal misery that she has to try to spread it around. Hopefully, she will one day have the sort of love in her life that you clearly have. At that point, she will no longer feel the need to hurt others. You're right. She much be terribly, terribly sad.

Happy, happy birthday!

Happy birthday to you. It's heartbreaking to think anyone could choose to be mean to another person. I'm glad you are fnding peace with everything and I hope your birthday is a very good one.

Tanti auguri!

I'm amazed by your ability, in the midst of your pain and sadness, to have compassion for those who inflict pain on others. I can only imagine that your mother, wherever she may be, is proud of you.

Hippo Birdie Two Ewe....

People like that are happiest when they are miserable and making others miserable - ask me how I know --- my main reaction to those people are "Boy I am glad I'm not married to that!"

The first year sucks big time with holidays and birthdays etc over the years it does get better but there is always that little hole in your heart but a time comes when you can remember with more warm loving thoughts and less gut wrenching pain - honest.

Happy birthday, chica..and many, many hugs.

Happy birthday!!

Kudos on your bravery - I know how hard it can be, putting your pain out there when there's somebody standing ready to rub lemon juice on the wound.

It takes a super-sized heart to see past the senseless sting and grieve for the burdens of the wasp bearing it. Most of us just squish the little bugger quick as we can, talk trash about it and move on.

You're an awfully special lady, ma'am. Big hugs from the Den of Chaos.

Happy Birthday Sweet Rachel.
You need to save your mothers voicemail on your computer so you can save it forever.

Hope you have a Happy Birthday, Rachael, with as many happy individual moments as possible.

If you have a digital recorder, that is a good way to record from an answering machine or a cell phone, then you can download the recording to your computer. My sister did this with a message from her husband. Hope this helps!

Hugs and Happy Birthday wishes to you. As for the tattoo, I say GO FOR IT GIRL!!!! You deserve to get exactly what you will enjoy the most. And, if you design it yourself, it will be lovely!

I had one of those messages saved on my phone for a long, long time, a happy message from DH before things got icky in our lives. Recently, I let it go because I realized I hadn't needed to listen to it for months because life seems to have fallen into place again. I think Robin's right -- see if you can save it in digital form?

I had hoped to cross paths with you this summer -- DD's at UC Berkeley again and I'm up every Wednesday to visit. I'm able to get out a bit more now (yay!). Maybe when you get back?

As for pattern drafting and alterations? Wanna get together at Stonemountain sometime and I can give you a quick lesson in bodices?

I was on the subway here recently when a saw a young, blond girl with a tattoo on her back. She was wearing a strapless dress which is why I could see it. Anyway, it was a tattoo that said MOM and then two dates below it...a birth date and a death date.

This girl's mom died at age 36, and the girl herself couldn't have been much older than 21.

That was just so sad, except that the girl was smiling and laughing and looked for all the world like she hadn't a care.

Happy birthday to you. I'm still keeping you and your family in my thoughts. I hope that you find peace and joy today.

Happy Birthday sweets! Just know that the first year just SUCKS holiday-wise. But it does get easier. I promise. Maybe next time I'm there I'll be able to see you.

*H*A*P*P*Y* *B*I*R*T*H*D*A*Y* !

Have as happy a day as you can, or want, dear, sweet Rachel.

Please accept my belated, most sincere, condolences. You had a wonderful relationship, it seems to me, with your mother. That will always be with you.
Take care.

Happy birthday, Rachael! The pain lessens over the years, but it is a testament to your mama. Allowing yourself to feel it helps to work through it. Love you!

Happy birthday a little late, Rachael, and I hope that you had a decent birthday despite your grief. I am sorry that you have felt so miserable in the past because of a nasty e-mail. I would like to repeat what Karen wrote in the first comment to your this post. Because you are so true and kind, Rachael, I feel the world can be a wonderful place to be.


I absolutely, unequivocally love you. Happy birthday, cutiepie, and hold on to the good, even if it makes you cry.

Also, I highly recommend So You Think You Can Dance. :-)

A Mom tat is a fabulous idea. May I recommend Tanja at Lyle Tuttle in SF on Columbus. Only the best for momma!

Happy almost birthday. Much love!

You are an amazing person.

Have a happy birthday... and may this year bring you both peace and joy.

Mom grief hits at weird times. Holidays are always tough. But appliance commercials are sneakily sad. So watch out for those too!

Hugs! I hope you let yourself grieve. It's hard and you feel silly at times. But it's really important and absolutely allowed.

Happy Birthday Rachel!
You are the sweetest and dearest!

I think you are right about mean-spirited people...I have one in my work life. Living with compassion - especially those who are intent on hurting us - is something I work on everyday.

Happy Birthday! I hope that you have a wonderful day...

It usually more than sadness that makes people act out like that. Pain, anger, rage mix with sadness in a soup that is so toxic, it must be released somehow. Feelings like these cause people to abuse other people, children or animals.

I admire you for realizing that the mean person is in misery, especially during your time of grief. Your compassion is sorely needed in this world.

Happy Birthday, dear heart. Your Mom must be so proud of you!

Mean-spirited people have to live with themselves (talk about karma!), get cranky, and have to lash out at the good ones. Ignore the moron.

So my 21 day roll-over has several variations of H-Bday from folks since I got my phone as well...small world. I haven't tried it yet, as I just got it, but a regular Radio-Shack $25 phone recorder is what I'm going to use, plugged into my land-line as I can check my v-mail from there, and onto a cassette tape, as that's all I have. But I like the digital recorder idea as well.

Anyhow, it's a thought.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday! I have three answering machines. Only one is actually used. The other two are my Mom's old machine and my old machine. My mom's contains my Dad's announcement greeting and mine has a one-sided conversation my Mom left on it. I've kept them both "alive" so when I need comfort, I can hear their voices (though some family members find this unhealthy).

If you have an answering machine that will record conversations, maybe you could call your voice mail from your land line, and play the message while recording it to your land line machine. Then find a more permanent solution. I hope you can keep the message. It's precious.

Hi, Rachael--
It's Gaynelle & Don here, wishing you the best birthday that you can have, under the circumstances...I know it's a hard one this year especially. Your mention of your saved message from your mom reminded me that I kept Rick's answering machine message from his Studio West shop in Harmony for years..."Hello, you've reached Studio West..." I can still play that message in my head and hear his voice, even though I parted company with the machine and message when I married Don. I cannot tell you how unnerving it was to me when I first heard the message after Rick's death. Nor can I tell you how comforting it was, often, often, subsequently when I played it. Comforting, happy and sad, all at once. This technology was not around when my parents died, so I have to bring their voices up from memory, and usually this is easier to do than I would have imagined. And having lived with them for about 30 years, I can imagine what they would say about certain things, the words, the tone they would use...
So much to say, to share, but for now, I'll close with just one more thought--that you are doing just the right response to the mean-spirited e-mailer. No one deserves people like this in their blog world (or life), but over the years, alas, we get one, two, or a few of 'em...and "there but for the grace of God go you or I"...so we hope they'll come around to more positive uses of their mental energies, and such...and we refuse, absolutely refuse to reduce ourselves to their level of operation...'cause to do so helps neither us nor them nor anyone else. So kudus to you, dear Rachael, and I'll hope to keep in better touch over these coming days. You are so much in my thoughts and prayers.

Much love,
Gaynelle -- for Don, too

happy birthday, blithe spirit. it's a very very special day, like you.

happy day after your birthday!
will the tattoo be simple and old-fashioned? pirate style? or biker style? hearts and roses? or will you design something new? can't wait to see it. xo.

Dude, you totally have the right attitude about that hater. What a glum life that person must lead, every grim thought that person has is exerting its own punishment. Good for you for keepin' on keepin' on...you bring a lot of happiness to blog readers who love your style and stick-to-itive-ness, to quote my Granny.

My deepest sympathies for your grieving process...you're doing that so. well. Allowing yourself to feel what you feel is crucial, and is one of many major differences between you and the haters out there.

Happy Birthday Lady. I think a tub, a book, and a new tat sounds perfect! :)

Happy almost birthday and 4th of July!

I know what you mean about your mom's voicemail, after my mom died I would occasionally look at her hairbrush, which still had some hair on it. It seemed very improbable to me that the hair still existed, shouldn't it have disappeared when she died? All of these little traces of her, yet no sign of her...I kept that hairbrush for a long time. xxoo

I remember being really surprised that first year after my father died that I would be so sad on my birthday. It seems so indulgent, like, "it's my birthday, and my Dad is dead! Waaaah!!!" But it turns out, all my siblings had the same feeling on their birthday, and I still have it every year. I think your emotions are pretty universal. It's very soon for you, but these things will continue to sneak up on you. It's just part of the process.

It helps to have someone to be pissed off at in the aftermath of a death. There's all this metphysical anger at the universe over it all, and when someone acts like a total ass, it's like a gift to be able to direct all that anger at something specific, to just express some anger and get some of it out. So that horrible person is actually helpful, although I think you are being incredibly magnanimous. As usual.

Happy birthday, Rachael.

You are in my thoughts. I still miss my mum with her kiwi accent. Treasure that recording. Kia kaha (stay strong)

Belated Happy Birthday. This is year is going to be such an unexpected journey for you after such a devastating loss. It is totally normal to be doing "well" one minute and a total mess the next. It's like a roller coaster.

Always remember that this is a major adjustment in your life. I don't like to use the term "getting over" the incident because I don't think we ever "get over" it, we just adjust to living with what has happened. Be kind to yourself and don't expect your feelings to be one way or another, just deal with them as they come up. Grief ends when it ends and there are no rules or time limitations.

As far as the nasty email you spoke of......(I'm sure you know) some people just suck and in my experience, they are usually miserable people who will not be happy until everyone around them is miserable too. Keep being you and ignore them.


Happy Birthday! ::Hugs:: I would also recommend taping the message so that you can listen to it if/when you want. It is something lovely to have a recording of.

"And my birthday wish is peace and joy to all who need it. That's a good wish. Yes."

Oh, ma'am. That most certainly is a good wish. Thank you.

Belated birthday wishes...and I'm so sad that someone felt compelled to be that pointlessly nasty. Just think how lucky you are: such love you have in your life compared to that poor soul!

Saving the message from your mom is something that would do too. I would keep it forever and send it to my computer if the phone ever goes. It's one of those things I would never want to part with either. I was only 4 when I lost my grandmother (my mom's mom). To this day, I'll walk through the house and every once and awhile, catch a whiff of a perfume she used to wear that hasn't been made in years. I like to think it's her telling me she is with me and I'm not alone. I'm now in my 30s and still get that sensory experience every once and awhile. It's incredibly comforting because I always notice it when life it hard.

I'm still in shock about the mean person who emailed you. How can someone have the audacity to do something like that? I'm glad you were able to deal with it hear among friends.

Many abundant blessings to you on your birthday. May each birthday get better with age, like a fine wine!

You know, we nearly share a birthday. Mine was Sunday, the 6th. Perhaps that's why I feel such a kinship - we fellow crabs sense the sensitivity under our crusty shells.
I woke up on Sunday and for a moment thought my father would be calling me, and I could hear his voice and I knew, an instant later, that it wasn't going to happen, and it tinged the day with wistfulness. But you are right, to share your thoughts and feelings, and to insulate yourself from what/whomever wishes to make life worse. As I type those words, "make life worse" I wonder what possesses a person, what sort of Greek Furies are raging over their head, to drive them in such a futile, desperate direction. Sorry you've had to muck with it on top of everything else. But cheery-o, my dear, your adorable pigtails and fresh frocks and your memories and your love (included in that big umbrella are Lala, family, dogs, cats, readers, kind-hearted strangers) will all get you through the day. Oh, and a proper pillow.
Mwah. As a dear, wise, older woman once told me as tears were brimming in my eyes: "Chin up, tits out, my darling." Truly words to live by.

I love it that Lala's grief suggestion involves old kung fu movies.

I'm so glad you still have that message of your mom's. I hope you can download it to something digital; it sounds so precious.

The comments to this entry are closed.