My birthday falls about a month before my late husband’s. When we were first dating I loved that. It meant he had to buy me a gift first and I could see exactly what level of gift giving he thought we were at before I had to buy him a present. Heaven forbid I gift the rare first edition copy of his favorite book when he is still at the, “I got you this token stuffed animal…it’s kinda cute right?” phase. But beyond gift gauging, having our birthday’s so close together created a fun birthday season. There was always an excuse to go out for dinner, or make a cake, or have extra desserts around the house. Because it was birthday season.
Then my husband died. That first year I didn’t really feel like celebrating at all. I ended up spending the day at the spa joined by some of my oldest and dearest friends. It was a nice day-a bright spot in the sea of sadness that was my life. It was also decadent, a splurge on myself, a chance to feel pampered when all I had been capable of was merely surviving. It was a treat. And it ended up being a one time only treat because spas are expensive and, in case you haven’t heard, teachers aren’t exactly rolling in the dough. My second post-husband dying birthday was deep in the pandemic. We were still teaching school virtually, and spas and shows were closed. Now everybody’s life looked different. That birthday was marked by a fancy dinner, served outdoors. It was a little easier to celebrate, partly because I was in a different place in my grief journey and partly because the weirdness of the pandemic matched the weirdness I was feeling.
That brings us to my most recent birthday. This one was a hodgepodge of celebrations interrupted by work commitments and, oh yeah, still a pandemic. But this birthday was one of the hardest yet. You see my husband had always been older than me. He was about two years older than me when we met and he stayed two years older than me for all of our relationship because that’s how age works. On my most recent birthday I turned 33. The age that Thomas Jefferson was when he wrote the declaration of independence. The same age we estimate Jesus was when he finished his ministry on earth. So, you know, no pressure. This is also the age where I officially become older than my husband will ever get to be.
That’s heavy. There is now no denying that time is relentlessly moving on. That I must continue to move forward all while grappling with the feeling that the life I used to have is falling further and further behind. Things are different now, I am different now. I honestly don’t know how my husband would fit in my current life. But at the same time I can so clearly remember what life used to be like, what we were like together, and I miss that.
This past week, Facebook memories was kind enough to remind me of all the different treats I made for my husband’s birthday. Everything from buffalo chicken mac and cheese (I won’t give you the ingredient list-it’s truly horrifying) to from scratch German Chocolate Cake (that I would scrape the frosting off because I hate coconut). Now, I try to honor my husbands birthday by not cooking (because I also need to be kind to myself), and instead going out with a few close friends. Friends who know me now and who knew us then. We treat ourselves to a night off from cooking and have a fun evening together as we celebrate and remember the man we loved and dearly miss.
In my new life, September into October is no longer the birthday season. Now it is the start of sad season. To be honest, I find myself crying much more often and for no particular reason. It’s just sad season. The days are shorter, the house is colder, and that always makes me feel more lonely. But even in sad season there are moments of joy. I don’t say this to wrap it all up in a bow or to bright side. I say it because it’s true. It’s why Kate Bowler is so wise to end her podcasts with, “Have a beautiful, terrible day.” My birthday, and my husband’s birthday are no longer occasions of pure joy and that’s terrible. But they can also still be beautiful.