On My Birthday

B. J. Jewett spent her career working with children and families, as a registered nurse and, later, as an educator. She is the author of a children’s book Letter Trees. Her second book, You Don’t Fall Out of the Universe was written in response to the loss of her adult son. Unable to find resources that aligned with her beliefs and needs, B.J. wrote this book as an offering to others suffering a grievous loss. B.J. lives in rural Missouri with her husband of 44 years, three dogs and two cats. She enjoys tending to her evergreen garden and spending time in nature with her daughter and grandchildren. She and her husband frequently drive country roads looking for birds to photograph or spend time on the water in their old pontoon boat. She is currently at work on a second children’s book to be published next spring. Contact B. J. Jewett at her website www.bjjewett.com or by email at [email protected].

Several weeks after our son died, I opened a card from his lady, Mary.  She would have been my daughter-in-law later that fall. She already was in my heart.

The envelope was beautiful, her writing distinctive, with its loops and angled letters. Holding it in my hands, I couldn’t contemplate what it might hold. I couldn’t believe she had remembered my birthday. I knew she was struggling to simply hold on, we all were. I held her card, the weight of it settling into my being. My birthday. I would still get to have birthdays. Our son, Jesse, would not.

I opened it, finally, hands shaking, not sure I was ready for whatever message it held. It was blank inside except for her simple hand-written note. “I hope you find a little piece of joy today.”

A little piece of joy.

I felt a flush of anger. Joy. How could she wish me joy? There was no joy for me these days. How could there be? I couldn’t even imagine happiness. But I knew her heart, and I knew her wish had come from her goodness. I took a breath, pulled her card against my chest. A little piece of joy. Maybe I could look for it. A little piece.

Lily looking down at a tablet. She's got curly blond hair and is wearing a dark pink long sleeve shirtA few hours later, we met our daughter, Megan, and her family for brunch. I didn’t want to go, tried to talk her out of it. But our daughter insisted, “Mom, you need to get out. Join us for lunch. Lily wants to see you.” It was clear Megan was unwilling to allow me to ignore the day.

We met at a new restaurant in town where the chef was a friend of ours. He greeted me with a deep hug, told me how sorry he was about Jesse. I fought back sobs. He was the same age as Jesse. He had just opened this restaurant. He was here, he was alive. I tried to swallow the resentment rising inside. Why did he get to live?

The server placed us in a corner by ourselves, at a beautifully decorated table with floral linens, crystal glasses and fresh flowers. While we waited for our food, our granddaughter, Lily, cheerily played with the silverware. “Why are there so many forks?” she asked, and that gave us something to talk about for a bit.  “Why is my napkin on my plate?” So many questions when you’re two.

Numb to our meal, I don’t remember what we ate. When I was handed cards and a gift, I began to cry. Lily helped me open my birthday card, proudly pointing out where she had signed it with squiggles of purple ink. Inside the gift bag, a framed picture. “I figured you’d like a new one,” Megan said. A photograph of Lily, smiling, wearing a sundress, standing in the blueberry patch at our place the past weekend. Her cheeks stuffed full of berries, juice dripping down her chin.

LIly hiding behind a sheet piece of clothAfterwards, we walked outside along the sidewalk to our car. Lily, between my husband and me, holding our hands tightly, pulled us along the sidewalk, calling out loudly, “Babby, PaPa…come on!”

Heads bent, fighting tears, holding her tiny hand inside each of ours, we followed this girl with her wild curls and eyes like the ocean as she skipped down the sidewalk between us, giggling.

And in that moment, a little piece of joy slipped in.


Excerpted from the book: You Don’t Fall Out of the Universe by B. J. Jewett (Friesen Press, August 2022). Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Friesen Press or your local independent bookstore.
Used with permission

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