Elena never had a friends birthday party.
Sure, last year Kim bought pizza and brought it in to Mr. Raymont’s kindergarten class on Elena’s birthday and I’ve baked cookies to bring in for the class on her birthday when she was in pre-school. But she’s never had a special party where she can invite her friends over.
This was to have been the year. She wanted a dance party. Elena loved to dance and in her minds eye she was very good at it. We had been weighing whether to do one at our house or whether to hire out a dance studio for a couple of hours.
She had excitedly been telling us who she wanted to invite to this party. Some of the names surprised us. Not because we care who she values as friends. It was just that she hasn’t seen some of these people in years – not since pre-school. We had no idea that they were still top of mind for her.
Even though we didn’t do friends parties, we did do family parties. We would usually drive out to Oberlin and celebrate with my parents and some people we knew out there. Then we’d head over to South Euclid and celebrate with Kim’s parents and other family members.
The only constants were an ice cream cake and candles. Really she got two ice cream cakes – one for each party. She loved blowing out candles so much, that when she was younger, Kim’s mom used to light them again and again – even when the cake wasn’t for her.
This year, as always, we had two birthday cakes.
With all of the confusion this past week, we had forgotten to do something we had said we’d do. Kim is a room mother for both girls. Friday, Elena’s birthday, there was a teacher appreciation luncheon. Each room mother was supposed to ask their child to make a picture of their teacher and write a note about why their teacher was special.
After Elena died, we had asked Maggie if she would do both of these. Elena’s teacher had also been Maggie’s first grade teacher. Maggie knows and loves both teachers and was happy to have a job to do that wasn’t centered around the mourning or the funeral. But, understandably, this task slipped our mind.
Thursday night I remembered and Maggie drew the pictures of her teachers and had many things to say about why each is special. A light snow was falling laying a beautiful layer of ice cream cake frosting which the wind smoothed out perfectly.
At about six-thirty I took the pictures out to the car to run them up to the school. I backed out of the driveway like I had thousands of times and then just stopped. I couldn’t believe what I saw.
On top of the snow frosted street were candles. Candles were burning up and down our block – protected from the wind inside of plastic milk cartons.
Seven candles lined the front of our house.
I saw neighbors Sue, Tom, Carolyn, and Betsy as I drove by on my way up to the school. I thanked them and said I would be right back. Tom said, “they’re birthday candles.”
I keep thinking I’m done crying and then I find new things to cry about. As I drove to the school I cried – not about the loss of Elena or the birthday she would never celebrate. I cried because I was so touched at how special our neighbors are. We live in an extended community that seems to be made up of Elena’s.
After dropping off the pictures, I returned home and Kim and Maggie and I went out to the street to talk to our neighbors a bit. They were planning to light the candles again on Friday on her actual birthday.
Elena got her two birthday cakes this year. The biggest most beautiful cakes we’ve ever seen. And we celebrated with friends.