When Zachary's 2nd birthday came around I didn't know how to deal with it. It's supposed to be a day that mothers celebrate the life of their child, but Zachary wasn't with me to celebrate. He had already been gone for 10 months and the days weren't getting any easier. A friend at the time shared with me something that she and her family do for her sister who has passed; they release balloons. I had never heard of doing that, but it sounded simple and perfect. For the past 10 years this has become Zachary's birthday tradition and how we celebrate his life.
It's always been a quiet day. Most years it's just been me, Bill and the kids. That's okay with me. It's an emotional day and I can't handle too much. But ironically what also made me sad, was that's all it was. The world kept revolving. People kept living. Cards didn't arrive in the mail for Zachary, gifts weren't talked about, parties weren't planned and cakes weren't made. It was quiet. That's not how a birthday is supposed to be.
As the years have passed I've noticed more and more people outside of my family thinking of Zachary on his birthday. This year. Amazing.
Zachary's 12th birthday celebration started a day early in the most unexpected place.... my classroom. This year I'm teaching 6th grade to an amazing group of kiddos. What's even more special is that Zachary would also have been in 6th grade. I see my students and I wonder about my son. I have always been vocal about Zachary's story, except with my class. His story is blindly out there. I know many people know, and I'm 100% okay with that. However, in my classroom I gingerly mention that I have a son who's passed away or I talk about Zachary's Law, at a very watered down level, when I'm teaching about the Legislative Branch. I glaze over it because if I'm asked about how he passed away I don't know how to respond. It's such a big topic that I have always felt it best to be talked about at home with my student's parents if they wish.
Thursday morning I was standing at my desk when the first few students entered my room. I said good morning and they responded the same. Then one by one they started coming over to me and handing me a card without saying anything. I wondered what it was and then I read the first one, a card for me for Zachary's birthday. I thought it was really thoughtful. I had mentioned the day before that I was going to be out Friday, because it was his birthday. I figured a few of them made me a card because I mentioned it. But then as more and more students entered my room, they also came to my desk and laid down card after card. I started to realize that this was something else. This was organized. The words in the cards were from the heart. They were personal. The images the kiddos drew were of balloons, blue ribbons, and the word Meatball. The tears started to flow and it became hard to read their words. Not only was I receiving the most amazing cards, but $12 donations started to fall out of them for Marley's Mission in honor of his 12th birthday! I assured the class that although I was crying, they were tears of joy. I was so touched that they all came together to make Zachary's birthday special. I found out that one of my wonderful room moms put this all together. I cannot thank her enough. The sentiment and the words in those cards will be cherished forever.
After processing the day I had on Thursday, I was ready to set everything aside and have a nice day for Zachary. I was feeling emotional but loved and supported. From the moment I woke up, the love and support continued to flow. There were texts, messages, voice mails, posts, changed profile pictures, kind words and support that didn't cease the ENTIRE day. What a contrast to what his birthday was like so many years ago. Kenzy made me breakfast in bed and I sat down and shared with her all the wonderful things I had woken up to.
A little later on my phone buzzed again. There were pictures posted from my family at Marley's Mission. They got together and showed their love for my angel. Zachary's Way was decorated with special balloons. They all sent him messages too. My heart was exploding.
THEN my mom, dad and a few of their friends did the same thing! They got balloons, wrote messages on them and released them for him too. It was sinking in that Zachary's birthday was not just a celebration between the four of us, countless people were celebrating him with me.
We started to get ready to do the balloons. My longtime friend, Colleen, picked up the balloons for me and some beautiful flowers. I was ready to put some words down. As I was writing on Zachary's balloon the doorbell rang. It was another sweet surprise. My wonderful neighbors sent me a beautiful edible arrangement for Zachary's birthday. Along with it was the kindest message.
It was my turn. We finished up our messages and then took a drive over to our local park. It's somewhere my family likes to take walks. Liam went first. He released Zachary's balloon and said a few words to him. Then Kenzy went and did the same thing, as did I. The three of us released the last three together. The kids gave me the biggest hug and then we talked for a little bit. Kenzy shared with me that she got emotional thinking about the amount of people who were also thinking of Zachary and helping us celebrate his birthday with us today. She said it's not just the four of us. Liam added that he's always going to do this. He said when he's a dad, his family is going to always take March 4th off together and they are also going to release balloons for his brother. He said it with tears in his eyes. Liam has never met him, but it is evident that he not only LOVES his brother, but he MISSES him. As the mother of these three beautiful children, it was a great moment. We are not perfect. There's punishments and times of bickering in my house. We have moments we wish could be redone. But it all boils down to a family that is close. We value the relationships we have and I hope it only grows stronger each year. I think we can thank Zachary for that.
Just as I thought the night was over and I could sit down and start his blog, I realized I couldn't. Many other years I could have because we did our balloons and that's all there was to do. Zachary's birthday was still going strong. I got an email from a student's mom. Many months back we connected because her talented daughter was one of the winners for the Marley's Mission Art Contest. I got to share with her why the Mission was so special to me and all that they do for Zachary. She said then, that she put Zachary's birthday on her calendar and she wanted to release balloons for him too. Months passed and they didn't forget. Tina and her daughters released balloons for Zachary. I am so fortunate to have so many amazing people in my life. I'm thankful to the parents of my students. They let me share something very personal that makes me who I am. It's hard for anyone to know what to say to a friend when they are suffering from grief. I'm so proud of my class for not only saying something, but for saying and doing something so heartfelt and kind. It's a good lesson to learn that although we may shed tears, it's okay. I am eager to share and talk about him whenever I have the opportunity. My tears are a very small price to pay.
I sincerely hope that each and every one of you know how much you touch my life. From the tears you shed, words you say and gifts you've given with love, I felt carried through his birthday. I know that nobody is going to let me fall.
Happy Birthday Meatball. I love you!