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The Dreaded Birthdate Experiment

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

The thing about the birthdate since my son Chad died is that it's turned into a thing. Like a real "thing." I don't know when that happened, but it naturally did. It feels weird to me and I'm wrestling with the weirdness. Odd and unsettling and I don't like it. I don't like that it's a thing.

I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago with a "something." Not a thought, not a mood - rather, ... an awareness. Yeah. It was... a "sensing."

His birthday is coming up.

For the grieving mothers that I know and love, this is nothing like the experience of looking at the calendar and seeing it written on the grid. That's one thing. But this is another thing - a knowing - D E E P inside.

His birthday is coming up. He would have been 34 years old.

As the days went by, I started getting squirmy. The unwanted dread was at the top of my mind, lingering, growing more...dreadful.

Closer, getting closer.

"I've gotta figure this out," I thought. "There must be a way to work with this - maybe parcel it out... diffuse some of the energy." (Yep. I actually thought that.) I then had the bright idea of conducting an experiment. I would call it The Dreaded Birthdate Experiment.

It was 3 weeks from B-date. A few ideas ran through my mind - none any better than the others. I landed on a memory game. I decided I'd sit down every evening until his birthdate, and drum up a happy memory of my son and meditate with it and embrace it and hold it and the space for it. I even thought I'd journal with it. Hey - I thought maybe I'd make a little video series about it to post on this website - thinking it could help all grieving mothers. (I was optimistic, as always. A little foolish too.)

Experiment Take One: I lit a candle, sat in a comfy chair, closed my eyes and prayed and pondered, and the sweet memory came (and of course I can't remember it now), and the hot tears came too, and there I was - with one hand on my heart, and one hand on my belly - and then came the memories of carrying him in my womb. Or maybe I should say, "the sensing". Wowza. Wasn't expecting that. So, like a good meditator/prayer/self-carer/princess warrior I held my own space. I leaned in. I cried. I even blessed my body and prayed for overall healing, and yes, even healing for my womb.

That was good, I thought. A for effort, Rita. I dreamt of Chad that night - which was cool. Then the next night came.

Um, not so sure I wanna enter into THAT again. That was good, but pretty draining.

I dove into Netflix instead. Did the same the next night, and a few more too. And now I was dreading my little experiment. Maybe not such a great idea. But the dreams that were coming forth were kind of awesome.

Days later, I found myself chatting with another one of us, telling her about my experiment, acting as if I had this all under control and was diligently engaging in the process and my research. (Not.) I asked for her input. Did she like the idea of the Dreaded Birthdate Experiment? Thinking of the sweet memories every night? Did she think it might be helpful for others?

She pondered for a moment or two and then told me that if she were doing it, she wouldn't be able to edit the memories. She wouldn't feel authentic if she only allowed herself to think of the happy ones. They would all have to be welcomed and embraced.

Drat. She's right.

Ok. Experiment Take Two: I lit the candle, sat in the comfy chair, closed my eyes and prayed and pondered, and sat, and sat, and sat. Then something came up, the regret stuff. (It's always close to the surface.) I cried (par for the course). I asked for Chad's forgiveness (par for the course). I asked for God's forgiveness (par for the course). I had kind of a very cool revelation about forgiveness in general and specifically (cool revelations are often par for the course).

A for effort, Rita.

Then I got involved in life. I spent a full week writing a grant proposal - eating, drinking, sleeping grant proposal. (We really need that grant, by the way.) No time for meditating or experimenting. Not even time to walk the dog.

And still, the birthdate was coming.

In the meantime, I found myself not making any commitments for that day. And even saying to others, "Um, that's Chad's birthday, I can't really book anything for that day, because I just don't know." Ya know?

I also kept struggling... WHY am I putting this weird black cloud thing over this? How do I know it'll be a rough day? Why am I setting myself up for a rough day? (Never mind that I was basing this on past experience...the last three birthdates without him were not so easy.) But does it have to be so, I wondered? And why is this pressing down so hard on me?

The dreams continued. A sweet one that made me smile and gave me joy for two whole days. Only a split-second dream, but there was Chad, standing sideways, in a hoodie. Sweet sweet sweet. I was so grateful for this dream - I floated in it.

I think that might have diffused some of the energy. Maybe. Not sure though.

A few days later, a meltdown. The real kind. The "Alexa, repeat that song" over and over and over and on my knees and face on the floor howling and crying, and yeah, I'm thinking maybe that diffused some of the energy too. Maybe. Not sure though.

And now, here I am - Experiment Take Three: Tomorrow is his birthdate. I just lit a candle, one that'll burn until sundown tomorrow night. I'm having my own little tea party and listening to the Foo Fighters' song "Walk," which was his favorite. And of course, I'm crying. I'm thinking this is diffusing the energy too. Maybe. Not sure though.

I still have another 24 hours.

As far as the Dreaded Birthdate Experiment goes, my results are inconclusive. All I can say is that I would do it again, if it would bring the dreams. I would do it again, if it would make his presence feel as real to me as it has these past few weeks.

Yeah, the whole thing, it's been a thing. It's a really big, hairy, unmanageable kind of thing. But sometimes, some things are just things. Not good. Not bad. Just things.

And things are going to be okay, because Chad told me so - in a dream.


Special Request - Would you consider donating $34 to Sacred Sorrows today, in honor of our March birthdate boys - Chad, David, and Garrett - and all the children of the mothers and grandmothers of Sacred Sorrows. May their memory be a blessing.

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Aug 18, 2023

Hang in there Mary Ann, this is really really hard but you're in the right place. It's so fitting that this first anniversary of his death is falling on Labor Day, just as his birthday was on Labor Day. So fitting, so surreal, so sad. And yet, powerful in that it aligns with how he felt about dates. He's going to be really close to you on this day and I know you will feel him. He's with God, and with you - and he's fully alive. More than he ever was here. I know that doesn't really help, but it's true. And someday it might feel okay to think about. But for this coming Labor Day, just breathe and…


Mary Ann Bautista
Mary Ann Bautista
Aug 16, 2023

Thank you so much for this, Rita.

My first Dreaded Birthdate is coming up on Labor Day. The hilarious thing is that Mart always had a thing about lining up dates. He chose to get married on my wedding anniversary. He was born on Labor Day and the Dreaded Birthdate is on the holiday again this year.

You have given me not only some good ideas for how to "prepare," but also permission to go easy. To take it minute by minute. And if what I need in this minute is to veg in front of the TV, that's okay.

I'm praying for all in this group.


That was magnificent Rita, God bless you for your experiment, and honesty. Thank you for putting into words the struggle that is ours. I often think part of this battle is our belief in today's world that things will unfold how we think they will, because of society's norms. Jesus, please be with all moms who delivered or said good-bye to their children in March. Let them know you are there.

Mar 02, 2023

Thanks so much for sharing this Cherra. Standing united with you. 💜


March is a double punch for me because not only does my son have a birthday this month but he also slipped away in March. I feel the dread and do everything I can to stay busy but also give myself the grace of knowing my limitations. I love the dreams especially when in the dream I don’t know that he’s gone. As a community of women who live by faith we share the knowledge that we will see our children again and for now that’s what we have. The memories, all of them, are sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, whatever comes up, I will take, just as long as I always have him in my heart♥️. So much love to…

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