Grief-Love On My Birthday

Cat Li Stevenson
3 min readFeb 13, 2023
Antelope Canyon ~ Photo by Meriç Dağlı

As I ran this morning, taking a turn from Divisadero back onto Page Street, momentum building under my feet as I listened to All My Love by Elderbook, my dad “randomly” pops into my mind.

I hear him say, in response to me asking him how he is doing, “I’m doing great! I’ve been running everyday and getting my 8 hours of sleep.” In his conviction, I could always feel his big smile through the phone from Phoenix to SF where I live.

On my next stride, I envisioned my dad saying happy birthday to me in his simple way: “Happy birthday, Catherine. 40, wow! I hope you have a good day with Eli and Maya.”

My eyes well up in tears, my legs beneath me still running, the beat of the music sinking into my softened heart at the sound of his voice. I feel the tenderness of him not being here today. And yet, still hearing his voice grounding me, like he is only a phone call away.

His voice echoes throughout my whole body, dropping me fiercely into a shattered heart; a heart that has survived, what feels like, millions of moments of heartbreak. The grief-love of that moment, wrapping me in his wishes —and this potent gratitude that comes from knowing that he just wanted me to be happy with my daughter and husband.

Just a moment ago, my husband and I had lunch at Doppio Zero, a favorite Italian Spot, in our bustling neighborhood of Hayes Valley. I ordered a Little Gem caesar salad with anchovies. Looking down at the anchioves, I thought about Dad again. I remembered the time he told me and my siblings, with much gusto and that same big smile, how he had been eating a can of spam with rice after work. We all had a good laugh together.

My dad is with me today.

I hear milestones, like this one — a 40th birthday — bring up these tender moments. One that I’m going to start calling grief-love. The grief, these waves of hearing the voice of someone we cherish no longer here with us. And it is so deeply love. These little visits and memories from the many years of life weaved together, showing up to remind us of the precious human heart.

What feels like the most valuable gift of being human — love — and the loss that inevitably comes with the fleeting moments of our time here.

Time also feels a little different today. In my 30’s, it seemed more limitless. Like, life was a bit more guaranteed.

Today, at work circle, the eldest woman in our community — Tova — shared during the “arrivals” announcements that she was back from visiting her sister this last weekend. I think Tova is 83. I imagined being 83 and visiting my sister at that age. I hadn’t done that quite before; picturing myself at that age, and wondering what that would be like. What would my relationship to my sister be like at that time? Where would we be living? Would we still be laughing and living room dancing to electronica? Would we still be as close as we are today? Will we both still be alive?

As I walked out of our morning work circle, another elder in our community wishes me happy birthday. I share with her I’m surprised at how things feel at age 40 — the same and yet a little different perspective.

She said, “I just turned 70. You just keep being who you are.”

I smiled, taking in the wisdom of a 70-year-old woman. “And you become more of who you are, right?” I responded.

This is the crossing of a milestone birthday— stepping into the truths and beauties of a new decade, soaking in the waves of impermanence, joy, tenderness and grief-love that are all here today.



Cat Li Stevenson

SF via AZ. Explorer of the human journey, and waking up in Mamahood. I write about healing, mothering, grief, & love.✨