18: Happy Birthday, My Sunshine

18: Happy Birthday, My Sunshine

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Happy Birthday, My Sunshine

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

~Albert Einstein

It was my fiftieth birthday. Fifty! And no one seemed to think it was a big deal, except for me. Well, Mom would have thought it was a big deal, I told myself. And she would have made a big deal out of it, too, that’s for sure.

Where birthdays were concerned, my mother’s motto was always “bigger is better.” The first time my brother requested a birthday party, she insisted on inviting each of his classmates, accompanied by a parent, for a birthday bash that has become part of our neighborhood history. When I turned fifteen, a very special age in the Latin culture, a party at home wouldn’t suffice according to Mom. We celebrated by visiting family in my mother’s South American hometown so that I could have an authentic experience. Even when times were lean, as they often were, I was guaranteed whatever small gift my parents could afford, my favorite cake, a special card, and the largest bouquet of wildflowers Mom could pluck from her garden.

It was no surprise to my family then, that after Mom’s passing several years ago, I continued her tradition of celebrating big. I began hosting birthdays for my father and brother while also extending the tradition to my own family. I must admit, though, that at first these get-togethers were not the fun times they once were. These occasions just felt so empty without Mom — the driving force in our family, the cheerleader always at the ready with her round-faced smile, corny jokes, and off-key rendition of “The Birthday Song.” It took a while for the rest of us to recapture our spirit after her passing but eventually, with the help of time and determination, we did. So why, now, did I feel the emptiness of her loss so deeply once again?

I sat down at my piano in search of a distraction. Perhaps I was feeling so melancholy because I was experiencing what I thought of as a milestone. Mom had been with me for all my other milestones, big steps, little steps, tears, and triumphs, and this was the first such event I was not sharing with her. I lifted my hands from the keyboard, then reached into the wicker basket full of sheet music in search of an uplifting selection. There, between my collection of classics and show tunes, I found an old manila file folder. Odd, I thought, what is this doing here? I opened it and found nothing much of interest — a few yellowed newspaper clippings, old recipes, and long-expired grocery coupons. I stood, folder in hand, then walked to my kitchen trashcan. Just as I was about to drop it into the pail, a card slid out. There on the front of the card was a painting of a wildflower bouquet similar to those Mom often presented to me from her garden. Inside, written in my mother’s familiar scrawl, were greetings in honor of my fortieth birthday.

That night, after my husband Bill and I were seated at my favorite restaurant for a special birthday dinner, conversation inevitably turned to the long-lost card. I so wanted to believe that somehow the card was more than mere coincidence and turned to Bill for confirmation. “I mean, what are the chances of finding that card today of all days?” I asked him.

Bill just shrugged his shoulders, noncommittally.

Still, the question haunted me.

Later that evening, after Bill and I got home, I sat down at my computer to check the last of my e-mails. There were several birthday greetings among the advertisements and other junk mail. I opened them and read each one, finally scrolling down to the daily newsletter I receive from Chicken Soup for the Soul. The featured story of the day was “What is Your Feather?” — my contribution to one of their books, Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles. It was a story I had written about dealing with the initial grief of my mother’s loss. A story I wrote about my mom, included in that newsletter on my actual birthday? Now that was eerie.

Surely, Bill would have to admit this was more than coincidence. My heart racing, I printed the newsletter and sprinted down the stairs to the first floor where Bill readied for bed. “Look at this,” I said as I thrust the papers toward him. “Now this can not be a coincidence,” I insisted. I watched as Bill remained cool. Hmph! Now I knew for certain my mom was contacting me. What would it take to convince my husband?

Frustrated, I went into my bedroom and flipped on my radio to listen for the weather report as I did each evening. Static. I ran the tuner up and down the band. Nothing but static. Finally, I tuned in to the only station that came in loud and clear to hear Willie Nelson warbling a country tune in his inimitable style. Now, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of country music. But my mind was so distracted by the events of the day, I sat on my bed, closed my eyes, listened, and tried to make sense of it all. Still with a glimmer of doubt in my mind, I asked myself: Could the card I found and my story posted on the Internet really be signs from my mother? Could those passed on to the next realm of existence really communicate with those of us left behind on Earth? No matter how much I wanted to believe that my mother could still send me greetings from beyond, really, was something like that possible?

Then I got my answer.

Strains of Johnny Cash’s rich baritone came through the airwaves singing the old folk song, “You are My Sunshine,” the very same song that was my mother’s childhood lullaby to me. Right there, I broke down. I started to sob deep and hard, but not in sadness, in gratitude for my mother and for the love we shared that was so powerful it could travel across the realms. When I opened my eyes, I found my husband hunched over me, his hand covering mine. “It looks like your mom did remember your birthday,” he said.

Yes, my mother did remember my birthday. And she did it in the same grand style she always did. After all, she sent me not one but three signs that day. Of course. My mother always did do birthdays in a big way.

~Monica A. Andermann

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