Today, Megan would have been 37 years old. This is the fourth birthday since her death, and I can confidently say that they have gotten a bit easier. I’m not a ball of snot and tears, or missing her any more than I already do.
She’s s imply “in focus” today. There is no other way to describe it but “in focus”. On any given day, something occurs that makes me think of her. Shelby says something that sounds like her. It may be a five minute, fleeting memory, but regardless, she is in my thoughts. Four years of processing those moments have blunted the sharp edge of grief. Her birthday is no different, other than the fact that those moments occur throughout the day in a reliable, predictable sense.
The elevated awareness that she’s dead does, in fact, make today a bit more stressful overall. Her birthday doesn’t make any one individual thought of her “worse” per se, but the accumulation of them tends to just wear me out by nightfall. That in mind, I’ve decided I don’t care about being worn out. We’re physically in my favorite place on earth right now, and I’m welcoming the overwhelming flood of stimuli that will have me in bed by 9:00 PM.
As you read this, I am in the Great Smoky Mountains with Shelby and Sarah. It’s Megan’s birthday, and I have driven all night to be here at sunrise (I’m writing this on Monday, lending a bit of premonition to how I will feel). I’ve been coming here since I was a young boy. I’ve camped here, stayed in hotels, hiked for days, and simply passed through. Megan and I honeymooned here. Shelby has been here 5 or 6 times already in her young life. Sarah, Shelby and I witnessed the solar eclipse from here, just last year. I’ve entered these mountains at least three dozen times.
Today will feel no different, other than I am aware the Megan is not here. But the mountains, they are a salve. They’re a comfort. I can look at a particular peak, one that Megan and I once gazed upon, and not have the feeling that “she should be here”. Because this wilderness is mine. I fell in love with the Smokies as a boy, and I will always want to be here, regardless of my widowerhood. Just the same, I will always want to share them with the people I love.
If there is one place on earth that I feel most the most comfort with Megan’s death, it is here. Not that she particularly loved this place, mind you. She was more of a “beach” type woman. However, had the tables been turned, she would be spreading my ashes here in October, just as I spread hers in Myrtle Beach in July of 2015. It’s one of those “what if” scenarios where I can actually smirk and give a little thanks that she didn’t have to climb a mountain just to pour some dusty old me out.
Alas, the tables weren’t turned. She’s the one who died. Her birthday doesn’t change that fact. As I stated, a particular view or trail or summit won’t dredge up a specific memory. I won’t wish she was with me at Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, or Mingus Mill in that level of specificity. I’ll know she’s with us, everywhere. Her birthday, rather than being a tough day filled with memories, will be a wonderful day of memories. I will be sharing memories made in the past with the present. We will be making new memories. The small cake or dessert we partake of at dinner in her honor will not be a sad moment. It is impossible for it to be.
I mean, one, I’ll be in the mountains. Two, Megan and I had nothing but happy memories here, and third...well...cake. Her birthday has evolved from a happy day in our lives, to a tough day after her death, back to a happy day where we can be glad that she once WAS present on this earth. Sarah has helped immensely with this evolution, in her own celebrations of her parents and Drew’s birthdays presenting examples, but ultimately, Shelby and I would have gotten here sooner or later.
As for the mountains being that calming force in life, I can only say that Megan’s brother died in front of us, three days before our wedding, and 5 days before we arrived here on our honeymoon. Somehow, this place, like the thunderstorms that form almost daily on their peaks, created a happy rush of emotions for the both of us. In these years since Megan’s death, they continue to do so.
Perhaps planning to be here on her birthday was a bad idea. Who knows? I’m writing this on the day before. I have a feeling though that I will feel even more connected and proud to have called Megan my wife simply by being in the place that we shared for our first week as a married couple. Her birthday will only serve to amplify that.