The Best Birthday Ever

Addiction, loss, and overcoming grief

The Best Birthday Ever

This is my first time writing for the newsletter. It’s no coincidence it is during Chol Hamoed Pesach (the intermediary days of Pesach) that I begin this part of our journey together, even though I know you will read this after Passover. There’s so much I want to share with you, but for now, I won’t go into too much detail about the cataclysmic loss that brings me to HAMSA… and that brings us together. The short story is that eight years ago, my 20-year-old son died of an accidental overdose.
I could start at the very beginning and give you a linear account of the journey leading up to Trevor’s death and the transformative impact his life and death has had on me and all who knew him. But only transactional journeys (like traveling to the grocery store and back) are linear. I’m guessing your journey, like mine, is defined by past, present and future experiences that are simultaneously bound by time and yet also timeless.

Speaking of time, this past week I celebrated a birthday that was a milestone marker of the passing years and what my life has been, so far. Birthdays, in general, remind me of Trevor. I could always count on him to be the first birthday well-wisher at the exact stroke of midnight on my special day. I had expected to spend a quiet and reflective birthday alone, since my adult children live far away. Instead, I was barreled over with one surprise after another. First, my daughter popped out of the ivy in front of my house. Next, my oldest son surprised me at Ponce City Market. And “quiet dinner” plans with family was a ruse for a carefully conspired surprise party that included going to a club to hear a copy band. We sang and danced passionately the whole evening. If Trevor had been there with us, he would have joined his sister in creating lyrical dance interpretations with his lean, nimble body.

There was so much love and laughter all weekend. I told my kids “It was the best birthday, ever!” Ever? Did I say that? The “best,” even though Trevor wasn’t there? Self-doubt and guilt gripped my mind and heart.

The next day was erev Pesach. As I made my final search for chametz, I could relate to the symbolic reminder to be humble, not “puffed up,” after having been the center of attention, love and affection the whole weekend. I also was reminded of the connection between joy and sorrow through a Passover discourse I heard by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson. Why do we break the matzah, the bread of affliction, to evoke remembrance of our pain and suffering, particularly on a night that celebrates our freedom? Rabbi Jacobson explained there is no freedom or growth unless we are ready to accept our vulnerability and pain – our broken matzah. Authentic transformation means acknowledging our mistakes, imperfections, sorrow and uncertainty, because “there is nothing as whole (humble) as a broken heart.” It is these broken cracks that allow the light to come in so we can discover something deeper and transformational…even transcendental.

Which takes me back to my “best birthday ever.” The cracks in my broken heart allowed a joyful, transcendent light of love and life to shine on my birthday. I won’t let self-doubt or guilt squelch my gratitude to God for all of life’s blessings and helping me to find the brightest sparks of light in darkness. Trevor’s soul is eternally connected to me, and we rejoice together in life’s precious moments because of what we suffered together. That is the duality and the odd beauty of darkness and light, love and loss, pain and growth. Our Passover tradition teaches us that confronting our vulnerability, imperfections and pain is transformative and can free us from the shackles that bind us. Each of us has been through so much, but we can “leave Egypt” dancing together to joyful bells and timbrels…and we don’t have to wait until next Passover.

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