On Wednesday November 18th we celebrated what would have been Isaac’s 24th birthday. Instead of texting him and bothering him for gift ideas, we planned a day with a few things that we felt as a family would best honor our boy.

I can’t tell you the number of people that have told me that often times the anticipation of day is worse than the actual day. In many ways this proved true. For several days leading up to the 18th I was really struggling. I wasn’t sleeping well or much at all and emotionally I was all over the place. As Isaac’s mom I think the burden of making these plans felt like a weight on me, I wanted to honor him well. It was important to me to do something but I wasn’t sure what that was.

My dear friend Gindi encouraged me to talk to the family in advance, to gauge how they were feeling and if they had any specific wants or requests. I can often have big expectations about how something will work out and if it doesn’t go as planned, I am discouraged. I recognized that even in our family we might need to process and grieve differently on this particular day. Having that conversation in advance was helpful. Just that conversation made me cry, but it was good to work through.

Karlena wanted balloons, maybe flowers too. I wanted to make a special treat or maybe his favorite meal. The boys struggled a little naming what they wanted. None of this is easy and as I have walked through the last (almost 11 months) I have discovered that we really just have to do what feels best for us.

On Tuesday night I left the office and told Dominic I was going to go get balloons. I struggled to hold it together as I paid for the balloons. I wanted the cashier to ask why or who I was buying them for but I also didn’t because I was afraid I would break down. What a weird and uncomfortable place that was. I got the balloons into my car and as I drove back home I screamed as loud as I could. I needed that release.

Wednesday arrived and I was really struggling. As much as I wanted to find joy in my sweet memories of Isaac, I also could feel the pull to curl up in the dark and cry the day away. Fortunately maybe for me, the kids had a full day of distance learning ahead of them and I needed to be up and participating. Sometimes routine helps when you are grieving.

Isaac used to love a cookie cake for his birthday from the Great American Cookie Company. Since we don’t have those open around us anymore, I searched for a recipe that was similar to their famous double doosie cookies. You know the chocolate chip and M&M’s cookies with the frosting in the middle?! Yum! Isaac also loved my dulce de leche cheesecake and he himself made an amazing pecan pie. We like our sweets! My sister commented on one of my posts that Isaac got my gift of baking. In the last year of his life he often baked treats for his co-workers. I loved that he did that!

After school we spent some time writing on the balloons I had purchased. Gabe wrote this huge message, and wouldn’t let anyone read it. It was very touching and I will always want to know what it said! Karlena’s balloon said “Happy B-day Isaac. I love you and miss you. You always made me laugh. We got a puppy. I love you.” Elijah drew pictures on his and Dominic tried to decorate his balloon with electrical tape but we quickly realized that the tape weighed the balloon down too much that it wouldn’t float. It brought some much needed levity to the moment.

We released the balloons and held our breath as they barely passed the tops of some very tall trees in our backyard! The boys had gone inside and I was out in the yard and noticed Karlena on the swing by herself. As she walked over to me I saw the tears streaming down her face. In the last several months the kids haven’t cried much, the weight of the day was felt in all of us. I hugged her and told her how much I missed her brother. We all do.

We decided that takeout dinner from a local Mexican restaurant was another good idea to remember Isaac. He would have liked that.

Throughout the day we were loved on in so many ways. From the FB comments and prayers, the meaningful text messages from family and friends. I received cards that reminded me I was not alone in this journey. I received a couple of private messages from some of Isaac’s friends who wanted to check on me. That meant so much. I know they are grieving too and they wanted to make sure I was ok. Flowers, beautiful white roses, arrived from some dear dear friends from church, and my 2 best friends from Texas each found a special way to love on me and our family. They also reminded me numerous times this past week that our Voxer chain was a safe place that I could come and cry/scream/vent…whatever I needed. Having a safe space like that is so important! My mom had gone out the week before and wanted to buy birthday treats for someone in Isaac’s memory and had an opportunity to do that and my grandma sent me a sweet card and a donation to our favorite charity in Isaac’s name.

It reminded me of how incredible my community is, how words matter and prayers make a difference. Walking through this first birthday without Isaac here was hard and painful and made me weary with grief. But we didn’t have to do it alone. I am so grateful for that. Thank you for loving us (and our son) so well.

Isaac – I know you aren’t reading this but I can’t end this post without saying it again…I miss you terribly. You made me a mother and it has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I love you son.