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Birthday ashes, grave dust, and king cake


"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust". For those of us who have practiced a traditional, church-going Christianity, these are familiar words this time of year. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the lenten season, an invitation to 40 days of reflection and prayer. This is a time to recognize areas in our lives that are in need of improvement, and then to make every effort to turn toward those better ways - to turn away from the darkness and into the Light.


It's the yearly time in every Christian's spiritual walk to reflect upon the journey of Jesus, alone in the desert for 40 days, preparing for the next three years of his life, anticipating his own journey that would lead to ashes and dust. (The story doesn't end there. But during Lent, we don't talk much about the happy ending.)


If you happen to have a birthday in February or March, you may have found yourself, at some point or another, with a birthday cake (or not) on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting. As children (and even as adults) no one really wants to celebrate a birthday on Ash Wednesday.


Today, I find myself with my very own version of "ashes to ashes and dust to dust". Today is my son Chad’s birthday - and he would have been 33 years old. But he isn't, because he died.


So I do what mothers do on their children's birthdays. I find myself remembering the day he was born. It was March 2nd, 1989 and I delivered a baby boy via cesarean section (he was breech) at Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago. Chad was born during a blizzard, and from the hospital room window, the world was cold and white and beautiful. His father was beaming. Our little hospital room was warm and bright. It's a lovely memory.


And then I do what most mothers don't do on their children's birthdays. I go to one of his favorite fast food joints, and I order some very junky food. And then I go to Queen of Heaven cemetery, where he is buried. I spread out the picnic blanket, and I dust off the headstone and I shine it up a little bit, and I place fresh flowers on his grave. And then I have lunch with Chad.


And I imagine him now - today - on his earthly birthday, eating leftover King Cake in heaven. Because yesterday was Mardi Gras and I think that there is probably a lot of King Cake leftover from that party. He's eating cheesecake too. It's his favorite and he's feasting.


Because I don't think there's an Ash Wednesday in heaven.


But I know there's a Resurrection Day, and that makes the whole birthday thing that I have to go through today... that makes it ok. Not A-OK. But at least ok.


Happy Birthday Chad. I love you.