"Happy Birthday, Greta!" my Mom chirps from the doorway, bending down for hugs.
This moment is always hard.
I can see him there, in my mind's eye, standing behind my Mom and grinning his big, proud grin.
"Hey there, kid" my Dad would say, and give me a wink as he wrapped me in his strong embrace.
But, of course, he isn't there.
The absence of him seems impossible, because in my mind and heart he's everywhere.
My Mom and I exchange a hug and a smile; behind the real joy in her eyes I see the sadness, and a silent acknowledgment - I wish he was here, too - passes between us.
Finn scampers away, digging around for toys and snacks. On the table in the living room is a colorful pile of presents, and Greta flashes me a big grin.
As my Mom and the kids chatter - how is school, what's your favorite subject, do you like riding the bus - I breathe deep, let the emotions come.
I picture him standing in the kitchen, "El, can I get you a cuppa?" he'd say, bringing out mugs for coffee. Then he'd give the kids a mischievous glance and make that funny sound with his mouth, the one that makes them collapse into giggles.
I need this private indulgence, this ghost landscape of what would have been. I carry memories in my heart, take them out and roll them through my mind like glittering treasure, and through the ache they comfort me.
We move through the day, go through all the usual motions, balancing the profound feeling of loss with happiness, like tightrope walkers. We're figuring it out as we go along, eyes locked straight ahead, because if we look down we could lose ourselves to the sadness.
As Greta rips into her gifts, Finn slips silently into my lap and leans his head on my shoulder. I stroke his spiky hair, and place a little kiss on the top of his head.
After a moment, he buries his head into my chest and whispers, "Momma? I miss PopPop."
"Me too, buddy. Me too."
This post is part of Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary's link-up, Just Write, where we free write about our ordinary and extraordinary moments. Learn more about it here, and then click here to join in.