Grateful in Grief: Reflections On My Daughter’s Birthday

Originally published July 15, 2010.

My new year starts today!  Yesterday was Savannah’s birthday and I cried enough tears for the rest of the year, so I’m starting fresh this morning in July.

Special days are always tough and today I woke feeling like I had been rolled through an old fashioned wringer washing machine.  My whole body aches and my eyes feel like they are hanging out of my head.  Savannah’s 11th birthday was one of my hardest yet; it’s not getting easier as time marches forward. I thought it would by now.

However, yesterday, amongst all MY sadness and feelings of longing for my baby were feelings of gratitude, love and support… and I have to be grateful for that. I’d like to share my day and share how my friends, who are like family to me, made Savannah’s birthday almost as special as if she was here.

A girlfriend of mine, an old school friend, whom I’ve reconnected with, read my blog about Savannah and how I don’t know what it is that 11 year old’s like these days… her daughter is the same age as Savannah, so she emailed me

“I’ve just finished reading your articles and I often think about the things that you are missing. Rather than feel sorry or guilty that I am experiencing all the wonderful and sometimes annoying parts of living with an 11 year old, for better or worse I wanted to share with you some of my experiences.”

Vicki wrote the most beautiful long email about her daughter, what books she reads, what TV shows she watches, what music she listens to, and how messy her room is, amongst other information that is so priceless to me.  I cried as I read it, tears mixed with sadness, fascination, and wonder at a little peek into what Savannah might be like if she was here.

It was difficult to write a thank you note back.  It was hard to convey in words how much her email meant to me and how grateful I was she took the time to write it.  How very very special of her, and something so simple!

While eating breakfast my neighbor Renee stopped by, giving me the biggest hug and a beautiful frame about mothers… I gave her a wet shoulder from all my tears.

After breakfast, I took Dempsey (my 7 year old) to the local park where we raced each other on the swings, Demps giggling the whole time at how high she was going, with the wind whipping her long hair… and I felt grateful.

Toys R Us was next, where she picked out a birthday toy for her big sister. I let her roam the aisles until she found the perfect gift. “I think Savannah would like this Mommy,”  she told me.

Then it was off to Von’s Supermarket to pick out Savannah’s balloons.  Dempsey drove the florist insane with her constant changing of balloon colors… but then hey, she’s a female right? 🙂

I carefully drove home with a trunk full of helium balloons and Dempsey itching to get in the door and draw pictures and a note on them for her sister.  I wrote on them too, with love from mommy and daddy..

A friend arrived with a cheerful bunch of sunflowers and and a letter about physics and how there’s a concept about Energy… how it’s believed that someone’s energy is not lost after they die, just transformed… how my angel’s energy is probably creating miracles everywhere, along with others who have passed.

It was beautifully written and so heartfelt, I was grateful that this friend took the time!

Then Peter arrived home to an impatient Dempsey at the door, eager to send the balloons to heaven, to her sister. To me, letting go of the balloons symbolizes her soul being freed from her body. And so we stood in our yard, watching the balloons float away higher and higher, blown this way and that by errant winds, until we couldn’t see them anymore.

And I imagined that Savannah was waiting for them, up in heaven where there is no pain, with my adored Mom, and my sister Tarnia, and I felt grateful for Dempsey’s ear to ear grin as she loudly yelled “Happy Birthday Savannah!”

Peter and I shared a quiet dinner, he not sharing his thoughts with me, as usual, and me accepting that was OK, even if it is painful on special days.

And then our doorbell rang and we received the most delicate bunch of pretty pink and yellow roses for Savannah from a special family in Australia who sends them every year… again I was grateful and cried reading the message they sent.

I rang my Dad in Australia, and for once he got emotional, and we both cried, then he told me he loved me and to take care. It meant so much to me.

We got emails, texts, cards and phone calls… and I survived the day the best way I could, which is all we can do really, on those terribly hard days like birthdays.

This morning after re-reading all Savannah’s messages, one emotion occurred to me apart from the tears and sadness and heartache that was present in abundance yesterday. That was a feeling of being so so GRATEFUL. I know I can’t bring Savannah back, I can’t change what happened to her, but I can choose to be grateful for my beautiful friends who made her day special for us. I can’t imagine her birthday with no one acknowledging it… how painful that would be.

So today is my new year!  I’m going to take the energy and love and strength that my friends gave me yesterday, from all those who are important in my life who made a difference to us on Savannah’s birthday, and be happy and grateful for what I do have right here in front of me.

By guest writer Diana Doyle. Read more of her writing at


  1. mary kay jones said on July 17, 2010 at 11:40 am ... #

    This was my first visit to this web site. I so enjoyed reading Savannah’s birthday story and how you took such a positive approach to such a sad day. I to, try to stay positive as those of us who have the strength MUST inspire others who do not. On my son’s birthday, I always try to make spagetti and meatballs because that was his favorite meal. You have inspired me today to make those meatballs on October 12th for the 19th year.

  2. Diana Doyle said on July 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm ... #

    Dear Mary Kay,

    Thank you for leaving a comment, your words are so true about helping others who need the strength.

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Savannah’s birthday and thanks for sharing the special thing you do for your son….even after 19 years, truly amazing.

    Its wonderful to have a special tradition on birthdays that help us mom’s who miss our children, keep there memory alive.

    Sending love to you.
    Diana Doyle x

  3. Alisha said on July 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm ... #

    Diana, I am so grateful that you took the time and energy and love to share this all with us. I have not had children yet, and certainly have not lost a child. Stories like yours help me to understand, piece by tiny piece, what that journey is like. I work for CZC, and every story shared helps me to feel a little closer and offer a little more support to the amazing and unique families we serve.

    Sending lots of love to you and your family, and a big bunch of balloons to Savannah.

  4. Diana Doyle said on July 26, 2010 at 6:22 pm ... #

    Dear Alisha,

    Thank you for leaving me a comment. It means a lot and encourages me to keep writing in hope of helping not only those unfortunately grieving, but also people like yourself who do an amazing job supporting people suffering loss, especially children.

    CZC does a fantastic job and offers such a unique healing environment for others going through possibly the hardest thing they will ever have to face. You must be a special person to work in such an area!

    Thank you too for mentioning our angel Savannah, it is always lovely to read her name.

    With love and appreciation,
    Diana Doyle x

  5. Lucinda Reed said on August 3, 2010 at 7:49 pm ... #

    I cried thru your entire story. My daughter, Alexandra, passed away 4 years ago. She would have been 12. Everyone said it would get easier as time went by. Of course none of those people had lost a child. Luckily for me I had a mother in law that told me the truth. It never gets easier, just a bit more bearable as time goes on. Alexandra was my only daughter and was never able to walk, sit up, or eat by mouth. I never heard, Mommy or I love you. I know that now she is running and probably talking up a storm in heaven and I look forward to the day I see her again.
    My 3 boys love to send balloons up to her on her birthday and any time they get a balloon. My oldest is 7 now and he really misses her. My 5 1/2 yr old misses her some but really doesn’t remember her. My 4 year old was 2 months old when Alexandra passed so he really doesn’t remember her. My boys were so young when their sister passed that going to a grief camp was out of the question. I often wonder if it would be good for them to go now.
    I have a niece that was born 2 days before my daughter and I think I am going to ask my sister what things her 12 year old is into. I may even talk to my niece.
    I know that you think of Savannah everyday as I do Alexandra. I loved reading your story. It was lovely to see so many people caring about you and your family on Savannah’s birthday. I was a little envious.
    May the Lord bless you and bring you comfort,

    Lucinda Reed

  6. Andrew Smyth said on August 4, 2010 at 9:13 am ... #

    Hey Dee,
    Reading your article brought tears to my eyes and gave me a little insight into the grief you must feel from day to day let alone what you must be feeling on Savannah’s birthday every year. It is so great to hear that you are surrounded by special friends to help you through and also celebrate such a special day. You are an insipration to others with your positive attitude and inner strength and as MJK stated there are others out there that need to read your articles and be inspired by your thoughts and emotions. Thank you for sharing this with me.
    Lots of love to the Doyle family XXXX
    Love Andy, Kel, Tyler, Angus and Isaac…..

  7. Diana Doyle said on August 4, 2010 at 12:33 pm ... #

    Dear Lucinda,

    Your message touched my heart…I’m so sorry for your loss of your precious only daughter Alexandra. When you lose a child you lose a piece of yourself and your future I think. I don’t think the pain will ever truly leave and it is especially hard on special days…..even after a significant amount of time.

    My Godmother in Australia tells me her good friend lost her daughter 35 years ago and she still grieves for her. I can’t imagine a day going by that I won’t miss Savannah and wonder what she was like now…..and it still hurts to look at girls her age.

    Thank YOU for telling me some of your story and your pain…and I know its hard for their siblings who miss them so much. I’m sure your instincts will guide you about the camp, however I think it would be an amazing healing opportunity to meet others like themselves who are missing a piece of their families.

    My twin neices were only 6 months old when my sister died and I wish there was something like Camp Comfort Zone in Australia where I could send them.

    I will keep you and Alexandra in my thoughts and hope that your memories and photos of your beautiful girl can bring you some comfort on your hard days.

    with love
    Diana Doyle x

  8. Diana Doyle said on August 4, 2010 at 12:37 pm ... #

    Dear Andrew,

    Thanks for leaving that lovely message. Yes, grief is a private thing and not something alot of people feel comfortable around so my blog has been healing for me and for others it seems.

    I know Andrew you understand loss and the experience of travelling down a different path to one you thought you would with watching Isaac struggle to live when he was born.

    Thanks again for taking the time, it encourages me to keep writing.

    Love to all the Smyths
    Dee x

  9. Nancy Johnson said on August 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm ... #

    Dear Diana,
    My 14 year old son passed away 8 months ago from suicide. He was a happy teenager, so it seemed. He was the joy of my life – he was just getting into running in school. I was never more proud when he won a medal for 3rd place in a cross country meet last October. I have had the wonderful opportunity of talking with many of his friends from school. These children were as stunned and heartbroken as I was. A few of them rang my doorbell crying telling me they were sorry. And they all had stories of my son – he was a bit of a clown and loved to make people smile. So many wonderful memories of him. His friends painted a beautiful scene on the wall above his locker at school of the mountains with a trail to represent cross country. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him terribly. I don’t have my running buddy to motivate me anymore. It’s been challenging to continue running without him. I have another son, 16 years old, who is constantly angry. Angry at me, angry at his father, angry at his girlfriend, angry at the world. He listens to no one. He has little or no respect for right and wrong. He is a good student and a soccer player, but not the same kid he used to be before losing his brother. I’ve been so wrapped up in my own grief, I can’t imagine how he feels losing his only brother. My heart breaks every day – my younger son was so easy going and affectionate; my older son is distant and quiet and disrespectful. I often wonder if God is punishing me, taking my loving son away, and leaving me with a son who seems to hate me. We see a counselor but she hasn’t seemed to do much to improve things for my son. I am divorced and have been for the past 4 years. My younger son hated his father – they never got along. My ex-husband always favored our older son. It was painfully obvious – even to my younger son. I often wonder if he died from a broken heart himself – he never got the attention or approval he desperately craved from his father. It really is a sad thing. I still can’t stand to be in the same room with my ex-husband. My son shot himself, after my ex husband was told 2 years ago to lock the guns up and put away all the ammunition. He never did it. I have so much sadness and anger myself, I have trouble helping my older son with his emotions. I try to talk to him, but he shuts down every time. Would the grief camp help us?

  10. Diana Doyle said on August 16, 2010 at 12:39 pm ... #

    Dear Nancy,

    My heart breaks for you….what a terrible tragedy for you and your family. You are dealing with so much at the moment and probably feel overwhelmeed everyday with your sadness.

    I truly felt your pain in your words. I am so sorry for the loss of your son and also for the heartache you are experiencing with your other son who is probably dealing with his grief and it’s coming out in the anger you wrote of.

    I think the Camp Comfort would benefit your son so much…to be able to go somewhere there is other children his age who are possibly dealing with the same experience and feelings he is can only help him in my thoughts…not that I’m a counselor but there is professionals that help at the camp and also other children who he could relate to so he knows he’s not alone.

    My nephew had a lot of anger towards everyone when my sister died. It’s taken many years of support and constantly reassuring him he is loved for him to come out of his anger. He also went to counseling sessions at his school with other children going through grief that he could relate to.

    I hope my comments help. I really have no experience with suicide and I imagine you have all sorts of emotions you are dealing with like guilt as I still do that we couldn’t save our daughter when she was alive.

    Take baby steps Nancy, don’t look to far ahead, just take each day, minute by minute or hour by hour if you need to. Read books, see professionals, reach out when you have to and know that in time you will feel a new sort of normal, even though the pain of losing a child never goes away. I wish I could help you more but you are seeing a professional and helping your son which is all we can do really. The rest is really hard work and time to move through the days…even though some seem unbearable.

    I wish you love and strength on your journey of your days ahead. Its difficult to know why these things happen in life however when there are support networks and places such as the wonderful camp available it can only help I think.

    You will be in my thoughts.
    Diana Doyle

  11. Lynn said on January 26, 2013 at 5:24 am ... #

    That was a beautiful account of a very special day and I am so grateful for your sharing. It takes courage and a special heart to do that 🙂

    Both my sisters died when I was nine, they were eleven, so I have lived with grief for a long time.

    Lynn Hope Thomas
    Author of Breaking Through Loss

  12. Rea Ginsberg said on July 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm ... #

    That’s a beautiful reflection, Diana Doyle. I’m glad you decided to re-publish it. I’m sure anyone who knows death will understand the meaning and feeling of your “new year.” Interesting way to say how it feels, and saying it that way is a gift to others! Also, of course, a gift that you write so freely about your daughter! That’s wonderful! There’s nothing like the support of community, the village of unity, inclusion, and kindness, the ways of peace.

    This is also my first visit to this website. The company is grand here. I will be back. Thank you!

  13. Sarah said on July 18, 2013 at 12:15 am ... #

    KYLA. Keeping Your Loved ones Alive My daughter would be 13 next week. The days leading up to her birthday are stressful and every year I feel pressure from loved ones about how I’m going to react. I don’t want to cry on that day. I don’t even want to talk. But I do get a cake for my three younger kids. And some years we release balloons at the playground we took her too.

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