Today is my birthday.
This blog will post on Friday, and so by the time you read this, it will no longer be my birthday.
But right now, this minute, Thursday, September 26th, at almost midnight, it is the end of my birthday.
This year, I am 42.
This is the 3rd birthday without my husband.
My first birthday without him was so awful, I don't like to think about it much. It was only a couple months after his sudden death, and I was 39 years old, and turning 40. I had teased him constantly that he had better make a huge deal over my 40th birthday, and that he had better have something "epic" planned - some sort of incredible surprise. Well, "SURPRISE!!! I'm dead!"
Not exactly what I had in mind.
I vaguely remember, in the weeks after his death, finding some notes he had taken in his notebook and online, about possible places to take me for a special, intimate birthday weekend. He had looked up Cape May, Vermont, some beaches out in the Hamptons. Instead, my good friends planned a trip to Woodstock, where we rented a big beautiful house, drank wine, played board games, and laughed our asses off together. It was wonderful. And I barely recall being there. The days and weeks and months after my husband's death all seem pretend to me, like pieces and fragments of an impossible puzzle, that I simply don't have the energy to solve.
I also remember going to mom and dad's place in Massachusetts that first year, where my brother and his wife and two kids came over, and we made my favorite meal and had cake and presents, just like it was any normal, ordinary year. My mom has this tradition where, if it's your 40th birthday, or any milestone birthday, you get 40 presents to unwrap. Somewhere around bite 7 of mom's red cake, and taking the tape off gift #11, my heart said "No." My soul and my face started crying, I got up from the table and ran into the bathroom, where I locked myself for a good 15 minutes, just sobbing away my pain. I felt so guilty. How could I celebrate life when my husband doesn't get to live one? How can I open presents and eat cake and blow out candles when he never gets to see another year, another age - ever again? When I finally emerged from the bathroom, my then 3 year old nephew Brian took the next gift out of my hands and said sweetly: "I will open them for you, Auntie. You are sad."
My second birthday without him was uneventful and blah. Probably had dinner with friends, and at some point, went to mom and dad's again to celebrate there too. Last year though, we did things a bit differently, tried a new tradition. My brother brought over fresh lobsters, my dad grilled steaks, and we got farm fresh corn on the cob. I still missed my husband like crazy every single second, but doing something that we had not done as a family with him really seemed to help. I didnt have to sit there and think about remembering when we did this with Don, because we didn't. We never had steak and lobster with Don, so steak and lobster was much less painful. And after my sobbing incident the year before, mom and dad toned things down some, and gave me a nice gift card. No presents to open. No ribbon to untie. No calling attention to the big fat elephant in the room named death.
So today is my birthday, even though it is already tomorrow.
And things have changed a lot.
And yet, they haven't.
Last night I went to a Yankee game with my dear friend Lori. I felt my husband surround me in one of our favorite places to go together, like a friend I couldn't see. He was hiding inside the cool, crisp air. Traveling with every crack of the bat. Leaning himself into me, so I could rest my head against his chest. The Yankees lost, but there was a magic inside that stadium last night. Something that can't be explained. Something that felt alive.
And as I walked home from the subway after the night was done, my eyes and my soul started to cry, right there in the middle of the street. This has happened often after his death, after nights out with good friends, when I once again find myself alone at the conclusion of the day. But while I cried and walked, I began talking to my beautiful, dear, very dead husband. I told him out loud how sad I felt that he wasn't at that game too, that he can't give me birthday flowers and candy and cards from each of our kitties. And I found that by talking to him out loud, I am talking the pain away, and bringing in the love.
It didn't stop the ache, because the ache never stops. Not ever. But sometimes - on a perfect autumn night, on the eve of your birthday, when you're walking home after an evening of wonderful baseball - the volume on that constant ache can get turned down for awhile, and you can feel and hear and breathe all of the life around you.
And in that life, lives the life of your husband, and the life that you shared. In that life, breathes the possibility that things won't always be so traumatic and exhausting. In that life, there is hope. For the Yankees. For birthdays. For holidays. And for me.
I think they call that progress.
Pictured: me and Don, Yankee Stadium, 2009.