Thursday, August 13, 2015

More Than a Date

by Beth Saadati

Some dates still wreck me. I’ve tried to convince myself that they’re nothing more than another day on a calendar page. But it doesn't work. 

Seventeen years ago I was given a new name, a treasured title. Mom. I tenderly cradled my newborn daughter, Jenna, in my arms. And, August 13th became my new favorite calendar date.

Jenna on her 13th birthday
I'd thought it would forever be a day of cake baking, candle blowing, and gift unwrapping. A day of rejoicing. A day of celebration.

Instead, on Monday I opened an e-mail and read a friend's thoughtful words: "You are in my fervent and constant prayers this week. I know it is bittersweet." 

I answered simply, my reply sincere.

“Thank you, Chris, for remembering and praying. Each birthday gets a tiny bit easier, but this is still the second hardest week of my year. I really wanted to see Jenna turn seventeen.”

As I finished typing the final line, something I’d heard about but hadn’t yet experienced happened. An instantaneous release of tears--a grief burst--came without warning. Then it stopped before I knew what had happened.

I’m not sure why typing that sentence triggered me. Probably because I long to see how Jenna would have blossomed—the beautiful young woman she surely would have become.

But it’s also because birthdays were a big deal to Jenna. My husband and I couldn’t afford polished, prepackaged party events, but Jenna didn’t care. With personal flair, she concocted her own.

Her ideas would start to simmer ten months before she turned a new number. Sometimes sooner. Sometimes immediately after her current celebration.

In my home yesterday, several of Jenna’s friends came and played Apples to Apples and Mafia, Four on a Couch and Taboo. Just like Jenna used to do.

As they engaged in friendly competition, I was surprised to find what I feared I'd lost—a backup dvd of Jenna’s funeral—after the original copy refused to work. For the first time since my daughter's death, I viewed part of the service.

On my laptop screen I saw Abigail, one of Jenna’s closest longtime friends. As the soon-to-be seniors laughed together in the room next to where I sat—while they kindly included Jenna’s nine-year-old brother in the games they played—I listened to Abigail speak.

“One amazing thing about Jenna was her creativity. She was extremely creative in everything she did. She used that gift every day. One of the most creative things she would pour herself into was her birthday parties.

She had a square-dance party at the science center pavilion. She had a lasagna-making party. We went to the Children’s Museum one time then had a picnic downtown at Falls Park. We hiked up Table Rock Mountain.

Jenna's 9-year-old square-dance party.
One of the more recent ones, however, was a road rally. Jenna had made a list of all these crazy things we had to do. The party was split into two teams.

We would have to go, for example, running through Falls Park screaming like Indians. And we’d have to take a picture of it with a stuffed animal. It was really fun—another one of Jenna’s good ideas.

I will definitely miss Jenna. And her creativity.”

Jenna's 13-year-old road rally party.
Listening to Abigail’s words, the eight hundred in attendance chuckled. They remembered the way Jenna had embraced the gift of life.

For her final fourteen-year-old birthday, however, Jenna chose to forgo hosting a creative event. The summer had been hectic and high school was beginning in a couple of days.

Instead, she decided to see The Avengers at a theater with Elisabeth, one of her favorite friends. She'd always had a heart for heroes, and Captain America was hers.

Three years later, I won't have the joy of seeing Jenna awake to a birthday banner, a bunch of flowers, a short stack of gifts, and the anticipation of seeing her year-long plan with friends unfold. But my family will watch the movie she loved. 

We will choose to be thankful for the fourteen years we had with her. We will be grateful for those years when her life intertwined with ours, even though it was for far too brief a time.

With hearts simultaneously broken and full, we will remember Jenna.

Attempting to celebrate her life without her here doesn't seem right. But, with the grace and strength God, our Father, gives, we will. Somehow.

Because I want to be like Jenna. I want to rediscover joy and learn how to celebrate once again.

Even if it’s bittersweet and I don’t quite know how.


  1. She sounds like a very special young lady and so many great memories for you and for her friends.. May God's grace surround you and give you peace.

    1. Thank you, Kathy, for letting me share a portion of Jenna's life with you. Your words remind me to hold onto the beautiful memories and continue to treasure them.

  2. Who can add any words to this. Heartfull.

    1. Thank you, Marcia, for stepping into the story with me.

  3. She was beautiful, Beth, and had such a sparkle that is evident even in her photos. God bless you!!

    1. Yes, Jenna did sparkle. I still smile remembering that. Thank you, Carol.

  4. Continuing to pray for you Beth, as your family walks along this bittersweet road.

  5. She sounds like a wonderfully fun young lady! I love that you endeavor to embrace creativity to honor her essence. Loss is so bittersweet, complete with unexplained tears and long forgotten memories that surface randomly. May the grace of God, sweet memories and dear friends bring you peace as you continue your journey towards your real home--heaven.

    1. What you say about loss--and the undeserved grace found in the midst of it--is true. You wrote this so eloquently, Elaine. Thank you for reading and letting me introduce Jenna to you.

  6. Lovely post! I thoroughly enjoyed going through this post. She does seem to be very special. My daughter also turned 13 this year and we celebrated her birthday in one of the LA venues. She is more of a friend to me now than my daughter. She shares everything with me and I want to help her in every possible way.

    1. I loved reading this. What a beautiful glimpse of your love for your daughter--of your desire to be there for her and know her heart. My middle daughter just turned 16; my youngest son will soon turn 13. The teen years have their challenges but, speaking as both a high school teacher and as a mom, they're also fabulous years that parents should treasure.