It’s my Birthday and I’ll Cry if I Want To

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.

One thought on “It’s my Birthday and I’ll Cry if I Want To

  1. In the over 20 years between the passing of my mother and father, I would visit his apartment. And in some ways my mother never departed the physical space. Some of her cloths were still hanging in the closet. As well as her personal items about the place. And I would think and say at times to my father, “dad I think it would be better if you were able to part with X or Y”. And this was a man who at the time was in a long term relationship with another women, and who had turned down a marriage proposal, from her.

    A common error I was guilty of, and i think many are, with folks who grieve and mourn. Is that all those years post my mothers passing I tried to superimpose an agenda on my father, superimpose a mourning process that had nothing to do with him, but had everything to do with me. It was I that was put off by all my mothers remembrances about the house. It was I that was uncomfortable about seeing her items or things about that made her more immediate post death. That was a “me” issue, not his. And I was in the counseling business and a professional that told others how to process death and loss. Talk about looking in the mirror. And true, in all those years post my mothers passing I would call my dad and knew of course when certain dates on the calendar were. Her birthday, their anniversary, other significant days he would always note on the calendars. And knew those would be difficult days for him.

    Long story short, about two or so years before his passing, this long term relationship he had with his friend ended. My wife and I met her and knew her, even liked her, and told dad we were fine with the relationship. And kept up the Christmas cards and correspondence post their breakup. She confided to me, after his passing, how much she loved him and wanted to be with him. But in all their times together she felt there was another presence in the room, another person, another love of his life, that she could just could not reconcile too. Well, again that was her issue, not my fathers. And hindsight 20/20 it probably the best for all the relationship ended. My dad always never really wanted to discuss it in his life, but I knew his friend sort was never all that comfortable around the memory of my mother, or my father’s grieving process. Again that was her baggage, not my father’s. If you choose to love someone with a life and reality, a past, you accept them on their own terms and accept all others in their lives unconditionally. Present or the memory of. With my dad, “Barb” was never able to do that I think. The loss was hers’.


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