This Wednesday marked my husband's 37th birthday. This was the third I've had to mark without him and surprisingly, I found it to be somewhat different to the past two.
I woke up thinking about what we might have been doing if he were still here. On his last birthday, his 34th birthday, I'd snuck out of our room the evening before and hidden little gifts and clues around the house, so that when he woke on the morning of his special day there was a treasure hunt ready and waiting for him.
Thinking about that now, I can't help but smile. It may sound like a strange activity to plan for a grown man but it combined two things Dan loved - silly games and personal challenges. His face had lit up when I handed him his first clue card, he couldn't believe I'd gone to so much trouble and we raced around the house laughing and cheering as he guessed each destination and found a treasure along with the next hint.
Remembering that last birthday bought him back to me for a moment. It's not that I'd forgotten - the memories are as crisp and bright as ever - but it had been quite a while since I'd taken them down from the shelf, held them, touched them and allowed myself to be taken back there.
That was one of the wonderful things about being his wife, life was never boring. His child-like excitement and silliness turned even the most mundane tasks into an adventure or opportunity to giggle and have fun.
And then the ache came. That tangible longing for what can no longer be. How I miss him. How I miss the laughter, the silliness, the connection, the way he used to make me feel so adored. Dan saw me unfiltered and without reservation.
There was no one closer to me in the world who I knew wholeheartedly I could unmask and be seen and accepted. Not only would be withhold judgement or criticism, he'd love me even harder for it. I was more myself with him than I was alone. There was no self-doubt, no awkwardness or regret. Remembering what that felt like then made me realise how much I miss his love.
His past two birthdays have sent me into a black hole of grief, the pain so deep that I couldn't see light for a week or two. However this year felt different. I've really, really missed him this week. I've longed for more of him, felt the agony of being without him and cradled my broken heart in a way that I haven't needed to in a while. However the darkness didn't draw me in this time. My life rolled on.
It was nice to visit with the happy memories, despite the pain they've resurfaced. It's a timely reminder that while I carry him forward into my future, the loss will never leave me but neither will the memories.