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A birthday paradox of grief and honour

It’s my 36th birthday this month. See how I used ‘my’ there? 35 birthdays have been ‘ours’, but this one is only mine.

I think some people have this idea that twins limit and squash one another, that if they could disentangle themselves from one another, they would be more whole. We faced that for most of our schooling as many of our teachers adhered to the superficial idea that twins do best in school when separated.

But from a Christian perspective, we know and find ourselves in community. Like God, who is community, and who made us in His image. And twinship could be thought to be a highly unique form of community. Certainly it’s subject to all kinds of fallenness, as all things are, but it’s also God’s gift to twins for discovering who they are, celebrating, and being celebrated.

So becoming an ‘I’ instead of a ‘we’ is not some kind of individual dream realised. Having ‘my’ birthday instead of ‘our’ birthday is foreign to me.

It’s not like Red Twin and I were never separated for our birthday before. Living on separate continents ensured that. But celebrations without her were always pretty toned down.

Maybe it started with 30, which passed in the airport on the way to Tanzania, marked only by a packet of Tim Tams given to me by my friend Joh who was travelling with us en route to Kenya. (Both Arthur and my mum did give me presents, but one I discovered slipped into the pocket of my suitcase a month later, and the other arrived by post 3 months later.)

Then it was hard to think about how to celebrate cross-culturally. Birthdays aren’t a big thing in Tanzania so who do you celebrate with, and how? One year we just did an Australia Day / Invasion Day event and didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday.

And there’s the chaos/exhaustion combo of young child years which we’ve experienced alongside the stress/exhaustion combo of cross-cultural life. I’m not practiced at being celebrated, and without a community that understands, it’s not been a priority.

Maybe it’s just personality. I am uncomfortable with attention that is focused purely on celebrating me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a spotlight! But I tend to use it to re-direct attention – this is why preaching suits me.

Not Red Twin. She had a great capacity to be in the moment and to enjoy it. This was a great gift to me in life generally. When I got a bit Serious Sally or intense or self-conscious, she was there with her penchant for Disney or terrible movie sequels or dorky music. And on our birthday, she gave herself whole-heartedly to celebrating and being celebrated. And she swept me up into this with her. She fostered in me a kind of freedom and abandon that you can only discover in community.

And now as our birthday comes up, I am looking down at my side where she used to be and wondering how I could possibly celebrate.

What I want to do is to ignore my birthday. There’s this sense that it died with her. It only ever existed as part of ‘our’ birthday, and now there is no ‘our’ birthday. Even if we still mark the day, it’s a ‘would have been’ age for her, whereas it’s an ‘actually is’ age for me. It wasn’t just Red Twin who died, but an ‘us’. I want to take it as a day of mourning, a day when we remember her and are sad for the absence she has left in our lives.

This of course, fits with my own style and resistance to celebration. I’d be quite fine with making that day all about remembering Red Twin, with nary a mention of me. The problem is, I don’t think she would be. Suppressing my birthday in order to remember hers doesn’t do justice to the community of twinship.  And it doesn’t encapsulate who she was either. This is a person who boldly requested bright colours at her funeral!

Because Red Twin loved birthdays so much and always included me into her joy, I’m starting to wonder whether instead what I should do is to make a big deal out of my birthday. One way to honour the dead is taking what they have taught us and applying that in their absence. It’s a way of saying that they mattered and are still loved and remembered.

The day doesn’t have to be one or the other. I’ll need the grace for myself feel whatever comes up. But there’s also a practical sense in which I kind of have to make a decision about what I’ll do on the day, whether I’ll mark it, with whom and in what ways. If I don’t, I expect I’ll end up in my default, which is sort of more comfortable to me, but also less comfortable if I feel like it’s dishonouring to her.

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief. Proverbs 14:13

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

3 replies

  1. I’ve heard our said that traditions are a form of intergenerational love as one generation passes down what they love to another. Celebrating your birthday would seem to be passing on Red Twins love to yourself and others. Though as you say see how things go before burdening yourself with more things to do than you need. Tough time ahead whichever way I assume.

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