Yin, Meet Yang

Tomorrow marks my daughter’s 7th birthday.  I call it her would be/should be birthday.  People correct me, “No, it IS her birthday, it will always be her birthday.”  Factually, sure, yes, that is an accurate statement.  Donna’s date of birth will always be July 20.  Seven years ago right this instant, I was in the midst of 54 hours of labor, at the end of which was Donna.  Beautiful, crying Donna.  We opted out of knowing her gender before delivery, but, yes, I was hoping for a girl, and there she was.  Gorgeous.  Perfect.  Donna.

Donna’s birthday is now complicated.  Very, very complicated.  How do you recognize the birthday of a child who should be 7, would be 7, were she not buried in the ground?  This is a question that is not so easily answered.  We’re still working on it, Mary Tyler Dad and I.  In years past, and there have been only two birthdays without our girl, we’ve taken the day and spent it as a family doing things Donna enjoyed.  The zoo, a museum, a favorite restaurant.  In 2010 I honestly entertained the idea of having a party at Donna’s graveside, inviting close friends and family.  Then I thought about cutting a cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to a gravestone.  Yeah.  Nixed that idea pretty damn quickly.

Cancer can suck it.

Last year we went to Donna’s hospital and dropped off iPads that Donna’s Good Things donated to the Child Life staff.  We went to dinner at a cute shop named Donna’s Cafe Chicago that happened to be just blocks from my Dad’s place.  A baker gifted us the most beautiful cake with black birds on it.  That was nice.  We didn’t sing any songs in celebration, but Mary Tyler Dad and Mary Tyler Son and I sat and talked about Donna and ate a pretty cake. 

Thoughts of Donna are with me every day, throughout the day.  Sometimes they are heavy.  Sometimes they are joyful.  When July rolls around, the thoughts of Donna intensify.  Her birthdays are much more difficult for me than her death anniversary, her “remembery’ as we call it.  The thought of what should be is so much heavier to bear than what was.  What was was Donna’s life.  That is known territory.  What should be is more painful to consider.  So much was lost when Donna died.  Things that we cannot even imagine. 

And in the midst of all of this is life.  Life that needs to be led.  There is our boy, our beautiful boy, who is tending to his own life. 

This afternoon I will leave the office, pick up Mary Tyler Son, and head to a pre-school meet and greet with him.  I will celebrate his growth and all that will start for him in the fall.  His new school is Donna’s old school.  I will walk in that door and I will be ON.  I will smile and make chit chat with other moms and dads and compliment their kids and forget their names instantly.  I will be happy for my boy who will get to capitalize on his encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs and mammals.  I will feel the joy of his learning and growing.

But at the same time, I will be grieving.  I will look in the classroom that was Donna’s and remember what she wore on her first day of school.  I will think about how as we walked into the building the first time, she exclaimed, “Wow, it’s a skyscraper!”  I will remember the names of the children in her class and how they are in first and second grades now. 

This happiness and sadness, this darkness and light, that is the yin and yang of life.  It occurs for all of us, but somehow seems especially potent in mine.  As Donna grew in my belly, I cared and grieved for my Mom.  As Mary Tyler Son grew in my belly, I cared and feared for my daughter.  In the intense sadness and sorrow that followed Donna’s death, there was the joy and light that a ten month old Mary Tyler Son brought to us.  It seems that in my darkest moments there is always a light and in my brightest days there is always a shadow.  Yin and yang.

Cancer has brought much wisdom into my life.  Clarity.  I welcome the sadness of my grief just as I do the joy of my happiness.  There are chairs for both at my table.  Mary Tyler Son deserves no less of a mom than Donna had.  A wise Bosnian refugee hairdresser taught me that.  And trust me when I say that Bosnian refugees know something about life.  For me, the yin of my life is grief and loss and the yang of my life is joy and pleasure.  I am grateful for both, but more than that, I am grateful that I am not afraid of either. 

newborn Donna
Happy birthday, girl.  I miss you so. 

18 Replies to “Yin, Meet Yang”

  1. Oh, Sheila. Kraft och omtanke to you, friend. And so much love and light to you and Jeremy on Donna’s would be-should be birthday, tomorrow.
    This post made me cry, of course. As do many of your posts about Donna.
    I’ll be wearing black tomorrow for your girl. XoXoX


  2. Thank you, dear ladies. Much appreciated. I am leaky these past few days and lots going on — so grateful for your company. MTM.


  3. Beautiful. What has always drawn me to you and your writing is your ability to grab onto the joy that comes your way, no matter how much sadness is mixed in with it. You undoubtedly inherited this from your dear daughter. You understand the curative nature of cheeseburgers. You get up every day and mother your clever, bright son. And you give people reason to be hopeful and even grateful on their darkest days.

    I hate to insert an inspirational quote here, but I love this, so I will anyway: “With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” Keep being you, mama. You and your girl make me hopeful every day.

    I will happily wear black tomorrow in your girl’s honor. I would wear a tutu if it were work-appropriate (:


    1. That quote is from “Desiderata,” a poem I memorized in my early, early 20s to help me through the uncertainly of being a newly minted “adult.” I love that poem. Thank you, Elizabeth. MTM.


  4. Donna will always remain a source of strength and courage to those near and far, old and young! I can’t believe that much wisdom and love could be contained in such a small package! I celebrate and mourn with you. I, for one, will never forget her (even though I never had the pleasure to meet her)!
    Cancer sucks but as you stated there is good and bad or a yin to every yang! Donna and you have taught me that even in my darkest hour I need to look for that ray of light and hope! God bless you, your family and Donna!


  5. Spot on and perfectly said as always… Living the Yin and Yang with you MTM. I will wear black tomorrow because Donna’s all-knowing, yet full of wonder eyes always touched my heart… and you continue to do so with your words. I will remember Donna on her birthday and always.


  6. What a sweet precious photo. What a lot of possibility on her soft fuzzy wise-eyed face. And so much possibility has been realized as a result of Donna’s life–different than you ever imagined I am sure. The rings from the pebble that was Donna are still expanding outward. A lot of yang with that great load of yin. My favorite line here is your last. How important it is not to be afraid. I’m thinking of you.


  7. The skill with which you showcase and embrace both your yin and your yang is admirable. I’ll be thinking of the radiant Donna, her brilliant brother and her very wise mother tomorrow.


  8. Oh my dear you have brought me to tears so many times. My heart hurts for your moments of grief and loss. Every time I look at a picture of Donna I just wish so hard that her outcome had been different. Yes, cancer can suck it. And I will wear black proudly tomorrow for a little girl that I only can dream of having known. XOXOXO


  9. Through your beautiful words, Donna has touched so many people. You have memorialized her wonderful spirit. Bless you and your family.


  10. Though I can never completely understand what it is like to lose a child to cancer, you never fail to make me “feel” it with your posts. I always cry.

    I do get some (OK, more than some) of it because I lost my sister to cancer when she was only 36. I know what it is like to wonder what would have been. And sometimes I cry out of the blue because of some silly memory comes to mind and I cannot share it with her.


  11. I hurt for you, because I understand a smidgeon of the hurt. And I couldn’t stop myself from saying how awesome your yin and yang comment is and how much it resonates with me. There’s always an up to the down, and, unfortunately, always a down to the up. Best wishes to you and your family during this hard time.


  12. I feel such pain for you and your precious and beautiful Donna. But I can’t help also feeling “proud” of both of you for how you handled and are still handling it. My Yuval’s birthday is also July 20. Yuval was born 4 weeks early with an innocent looking bump on the side of his neck that turned out to be rhabdomyosarcoma. Before his official due date, Yuval had 2 surgeries (1 to remove as much of the tumor as possible & 1 to insert the hickman port), 4 general anesthesias, and his first 2 chemo treatments. Sounds unfathomable, but on the other hand, had he been born on time, giving the tumor another 4 weeks to grow, it would have been so much more unfathomable. But it WAS a terrifying beginning and a very long and often difficult first 8 months. Yuval is now 4 months off treatment and yesterday celebrated his first birthday. Not a day goes by that I don’t worry about relapse. But your yin yang approach is exactly right, and like you, I have learned to be grateful for the life lessons I can take from both sides. I wish you the strength to continue to see the good alongside the bad, and the strength to allow yourself to break down when you need to. It’s the only way to get back up. Love, Jackie
    PS – From now on, I will also celebrate Donna’s birthday (and her short but special life) along with Yuval’s.


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