“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words…”
Plautus, Roman playwright, circa 200 BC
On January 6th 2020 Ian would have turned 44 years old.
Birthdays are funny things. Before I had children myself, I never thought about birthdays as having much relevance to anyone other than the person whose special day it is. When I had children, I quickly realised that birthdays are actually perhaps of most importance to parents.
Parents live though a pregnancy; the excitement, anxiety and anticipation which comes within the nine months of preparing for a new life. They live through a birth; whether a straight-forward or a difficult birth, each is a unique experience that is never forgotten. The physical experience and impact of giving birth is huge for the mother, as is the emotional impact for both parents. Birth stories can become the stuff of family folklore, with children keen as they grow to hear how they entered the world. I recall the distinct feeling that I deserved a medal following the birth of my first child, and when his 1st birthday came round that I should have been given some presents too! And then, of course, there are the days, months, years and decades of hard work, wondering and worrying which go together with the responsibility of parenting and which can feel overwhelming and consuming at times – alongside the happiness, of course. So each year, the birthday of a son or daughter marks for parents another year of development, another year of pride, and another recollection and celebration of the day when they entered the world.
A parent should never have to bury their child. When a tragedy has occurred and a parent has lost a son or daughter, the birthday of that child becomes all the more painful as the memories of their birth and happy birthdays over the years are remembered.
My parents are pretty much superstars to me. I don’t know how they have managed to cope with the devastation of losing Ian. They have maintained dignity, compassion and insight into their loss and have battled so hard to keep going every day. As the years have passed, they have managed to not only find times of happiness themselves, but have also initiated happiness for me and my sister and our wider families. In particular this is the case for their grandchildren, who they love so much and to whom they give such a lot of their care, time and devotion.
All of the main anniversaries associated with Ian, his life and his death – his birthday, the date of his death, the last time we saw him and spoke to him, his funeral – combine and add to the ongoing fallout which comes with bereavement by suicide, and which seemingly goes on and on. It is easy and perhaps understandable that we focus on difficult anniversaries, as they are times of such intense emotions and memories. To remember Ian’s birthday, however, is different – a bittersweet mix of happy memories which are smudged, rather than consumed, with sadness.
So this year, on Ian’s birthday, I am going to raise a glass to him and I am going to speak sweet words about him, as Plautus advised. I know I will feel sadness and regret that he is not here, and that desperate ache that things could have been different. But I am mainly going to think of my wonderful Mum and Dad as they remember the day Ian entered the world, that tiny baby who they had to say goodbye to 35 years later. I will be holding them very tight in my heart in the hope that my love for them will help them through the day.
Happy birthday Ian. Here’s to you, and all the people who love you xx
Thank you for reading. Till next time,