Last Sunday was Jessica’s ninth birthday – the third birthday that we have had to mark without her. Special days, anniversaries and milestones are always very emotional days, but we try to find ways of remembering Jessica that allow for smiles as well as sadness. It is becoming a tradition now to mark Jessica’s birthday with a special birthday picnic at her forever bed. We take her birthday cake with us, sing Happy Birthday to her and then eat cake while sitting there with her.
It might seem silly, but I still put as much thought and effort into making Jessica’s birthday cake now as I did when she was alive. It’s one of the few things that I can still do for her on her birthday. It feels right to put that effort in, knowing how much she loved cake and remembering the joy on her face when the birthday cake was brought in for her to blow her candles out. She probably wouldn’t have requested a Hey Duggee cake at nine years old, but six-year-old Jessica loved Hey Duggee and would have loved it. Best of all, it was chocolate cake – and Jessica could never resist chocolate cake!
Jessica’s birthday is right at the start of the school year. For the last couple of years, her birthday has been on a school day, so it’s been a bit of a mad dash after school to get to Jessica’s forever bed and have some time with her before closing time. It was good this year to be more leisurely and not feel rushed in our time with Jessica as her birthday fell on a Sunday. It was also the first time that it’s just been the four of us there for her birthday picnic. Just us, taking all the time we needed.
We have our little rituals for visiting Jessica. I always sing her special song to her – one that I made up when she was little; my song just for her. We always bring the water for her vase in Jessica’s personalised water bottle that she used to use. Sophie likes to arrange the flowers. Several people had sent us flowers in memory of Jessica for her birthday and I’d taken a flower or two from each bouquet to make up her birthday bouquet. It felt like a way of trying to pass on those thoughts and love to Jessica.
Sophie arranged the flowers while we set up the picnic blanket and got the cake ready. We sang Happy Birthday, cut the cake and chatted to Jessica as we ate our slices. Sophie sprinkled a few crumbs over Jessica’s forever bed so that “Jessica could have some cake too”. Thomas thoroughly enjoyed his cake. He is so much like Jessica when it comes to cake and watching Thomas eating cake always brings back memories of Jessica.
There were tears, and smiles, moments of sharing memories, or telling Jessica news, and moments when we were quiet. Moments when Sophie or Thomas would give Jessica’s wooden carving a cuddle and moments when they were more interested in finding acorns or picking up sticks.
It is all so very wrong of course that this is how we celebrate Jessica’s birthday. Jessica’s forever bed is in a beautiful, tranquil place but I wish we didn’t have somewhere like this to visit. It is all so very wrong that I have to bring flowers to Jessica’s forever bed instead of getting to watch her unwrapping presents, and that although I can make her a cake, I’ll never get to see her blow out birthday candles again. But as this is our reality, we try to still make her birthday special. Remembering the beautiful moments, and being thankful for the time we had with our beautiful girl. Reminding ourselves that she is still with us and still so very loved.