Today's parents plan joint birthdays for the same reason your mother did: It's convenient, cheaper and theoretically easier than throwing two parties. But their online ruminations suggest that they worry about making the right choice.
Applying for college is very stressful -- not just for your sister, but also for your mom and dad. If they're like most parents I've met, who spend a lot of time and energy helping their kids, it might feel as if they are being judged.
What did it mean that there were no handbooks for me? That people asked me to be strong in the face of the biggest loss I'd ever experienced or imagined? At times I felt like I didn't deserve to feel so shattered, especially in the shadow of my parents' immense loss.