This weekend I celebrated my third birthday without Mike. He died just over two years ago, but this is the third time I have had a birthday without him beside me. The first year, my birthday happened two weeks after he died. That birthday; and, most of the first year without him is a blur to me. When I look back I don't remember much of anything about the initial year which is likely not a coincidence. I think when we are in deep grief we are shocked and numb by design.
I can not recall the events of that first year, but I can easily remember the feelings of my first year without Mike. My feelings were gutting. I was completely disorientated and sad to the depths of my Soul; and, quite honestly, sometimes I still feel this way. But, thankfully, now there is more good stuff between these moments of awful aching and relentless yearning for him.
Mike died suddenly; and, because of this I think I was in complete shock for months and months and months after we buried him. In the early days I would go to his grave a lot. Looking back, these visits to the cemetery were necessary for me because being there helped make me know that his death was real. I had to force myself to see his headstone again and again because my brain simply could not process Mike's death. I needed to read his name on the stone to make myself believe that Mike had actually died. I needed to feel the realness of his death on my fingertips so I knelt at his grave and traced the letters of his name over and over again. For me, it was necessary to allowed the roughness of the letters to rub the reality of his deadness into me. These repeated rituals helped me to accept that Mike really died.
For a long, long time no matter what I did, I just could not seem to grasp that Mike was gone forever. And, maybe a part of me still can't. To those outside of the grief world, it is probably not understandable that I could not and did not understand the "realness" of his death. To most people it was obvious that Mike was dead and they knew he was going to stay that way. It was just me who was unable to accept the permanence of the situation. In the early months, I remember looking at doors and thinking that Mike was going to walk through - any moment. I recall drifting aimlessly through the house and mumbling over and over again "Is this real?" I desperately needed someone to answer me. But, no one did. Or, if they did answer, I didn't hear them.
Photo: My Birthday December 1, 2018
Now, going into my third year without him, I feel that the initial shock has been almost completely absorbed. Cognitively, now, I understand that Mike's death is real; but, I still have not accepted his death at the heart level. But, I am working on it.
This year, for my birthday, I chose to go for dinner at our favorite winery. And, it did not bother me to be there, in the same place I remember going with him. Instead, of feeling sad because Mike wasn't there, I felt good because I was there with people I love. This is way different than the way I have felt in the past when I returned here. The first year, I had dinner at the winery with Mike's daughter to celebrate his birthday; and, as expected, it was hard for both of us to not feel his absence that first birthday without him. But, last night it was different. My thoughts did not drift from the table. Much to my surprise, I was able to remain present and enjoy the moment. We all laughed a little too loudly, there were smiles all round and we genuinely enjoyed each other's company.
We LIVED, LOVED and LAUGHED.
All the very same things Mike and I did together.
And, it felt so good to feel alive again, even if it was just a few hours.
This year, my birthday was everything a birthday should be.
With time, and practice, going to "our" places is finally bringing me joy again. As I sat in the dining room of the winery, I saw "our table" and it did not cruelly pull at my heartstrings and bring tears to my eyes. I glanced at our table and I remembered. I remembered with gratitude. And, without much effort, I turned my attention back to my table of friends and I carried on with my night. I glanced at the past, but I choice to LIVE in the present moment. Last night, I LIVED for me. I celebrated myself - without him. And, in truth, I felt his presence, more than his absence.
When I am able to be present. When I can enjoy the moment. When I can fill my heart with gratitude for what is, rather than becoming consumed with sadness for what is not, this is when I feel closest to Mike. This is when my heart is speaking his language. When I am being my truest self I feel Mike's presence. When I am smiling and "being" the woman who he loved, this is when I can connect with him. When I am joyful and living I am closest to him. When I am LOVE I feel his arms around my life. And, last night I was able to be all those things. What better gift girl could a girl receive on her birthday?Read more
Oh, the sadness of October.
My wedding anniversary.
Followed by our honeymoon anniversary,
just days later,
and then Don's birthday, just days into that.
October 27th we married.
Its toward the end of the month,
and its true what they say.
The build-up to these milestone days,
is often worse than the actual day itself.
But then again,
the actual day itself
is , for me, just heart-wrenchingly sad.
There are no triggers. No panic. No anger or hysterical sobs.
Just intense and very real sadness.
The kind of sadness that sits in silence by the ocean,
listening quietly to the waves, as they swish by one by one by one.
It's the kind of sadness that not many understand.
It has no drama, and would be boring to describe in a movie about grief.
This sadness makes me feel the need to put a pause on life ,
just for a little while. A few hours. A day or two maybe. If possible.
I need to just sit with the idea that my husband is no longer my husband,
but a cherished time and memory. An inspiring thought. A dream unrealized or
He is the man who loved me first, and who changed me forever.
He died loving me, and I will have his whole heart forever.
There is a sad comfort that lives in that knowledge.Read more
It's his birthday this week. March 22nd. On this day, I will always "celebrate" Mike. There will never be a March 22nd that I don't spend with him. On his birthday I purposefully choose to remember the way he lived. I celebrate the life and love we shared together. This is how I try to honor him everyday - not just on his birthday. That being the case, I admit that I want to do something more on his special day, but I haven't completely decided what this might be.
In the grief world people do all different types of things to mark birthdays. The way we choose to celebrate our person are varied. The only thing constant is that the celebrations are fitting for those who died. I like that. Not one type of birthday celebration will do because the people we are honoring are separate, unique individuals. To honor their person, some people release balloons and the environmentalist scold them, others set off lanterns that are biodegradable - they don't receive any backlash. Some choose to cook their person's favorite meal. Some people gather friends and family together. Some go to the cemetery. Some have cake. Some people spend the day alone - in bed. There really is no correct way to mark a birthday for someone who died, or for someone who is living for that matter.
For me, on significant days, I find that I am less out of sorts if I have a plan of some kind. When special days occur on the calendar I prefer to plan something. If I don't organize something, then grief leads me places I don't want to go. Creating a shape for the day is what works best for me. You might be different. Grief has many commonalities, but each of our experiences is unique. So, I think that we should do whatever is best for us. We should do whatever soothes our Soul.
Because I love to write, it's not surprising that I will write Mike a birthday letter. I will go to the grave and tie a balloon to the shepherd's hook I have lovingly placed behind his headstone. To Mike, there will be a handwritten message on his birthday balloon. I will stand there, on his grave, wishing with all my heart that things were different. I will play him some of our favorite songs, and I will toast him with his favorite wine. And, then I will cry. Before I leave, I will read Mike his birthday letter. And, then, I will cry some more. My graveside visit is very precise and predictable because I have completed this ritual for all our significant dates. I know how it feels. I know what to expect. And, I find it comforting in some strange way. For me, it feels right to honor Mike in this way. My rituals are sacred and intimate for us.
However, I am an overachiever and I outgrow routine quickly; so, this year, I want to do more to mark his birthday. I feel it is necessary. Mike's life was bigger than my ritual of reading him a birthday letter and toasting him with a glass of Malbec. His love for me was deeper than just me, his widow, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man she loves. (For those of you who did these exact things please know that your gestures were perfect as they are. Nothing more is needed to honor your loved one's birthday. It's just me. This year, I know that I need to change things up.)
I honor Mike every day - in both big and small ways. Daily, I credit him with the profound impact he has on my life. I think we all do this as widows and widowers. I believe that we naturally "celebrate" our person, in their absence, every day of the year. Yet, for me, my Soul is calling me to do something more on for Mike on his birthday this year, I just haven't figured out what...
Four years have come and gone since the last time Megan was present for Shelby’s birthday. By February 17, 2014, Megan had already been diagnosed with rejection, although she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital as of yet. Shelby was turning seven, and four days prior, Megan and I received the results from her bronchoscopy.
We rented out one of those “inflatable gym” spaces for Shelby, and invited all of her friends to join. It was a madhouse, to say the least...screaming, jumping, running around, laughing, and smiles from ear to ear. I distinctly remember the both of us having nervous thoughts in the back of our minds about Megan’s health, but suppressing all of them in order to give Shelby the birthday she wanted. She would have no clue, no inkling of something amiss on this day.
Going through some old texts and emails last week, I came across a conversation that Megan and I had just a day or two before the party…
Megan: Should we talk to Shelby about it?
Mike: Yeah, but let’s do it together. I don’t know how to start the convo with her, but we need to anyway.
Megan: Yeah. I don’t like this.
Mike: Me either.Read more
July is here. Megan’s birth month. Although her birthday isn’t until late, the 24th, just the fact that it’s this month serves as a near constant reminder. Every day in July, I consciously wonder how many days it is until the 24th. It’s a passing thought mostly. “It’s the 7th. Hmm...17 days until her birthday. Oh, it’s the 11th. 13 days I guess.”.
It’s not a trigger fest.
This past week was my birthday. I turned 34. It might be the first time in my life I don’t really seem to have any particular feeling about turning an age. Usually I have a feeling of either excitement or resentment towards a new age. When I hit 30, I was so gloriously ready to leave my 20’s behind because they were, with the exception of meeting Drew, quite hard years. I had an abusive boyfriend, two jobs, and too many classes to count in my early twenties. I had a fear of relationships and complete breakdown and entered therapy in my mid twenties. Not to mention an alcoholic dad creating occasional chaos throughout all of that. I spent the better half of that decade fighting so hard to survive… with the odds of a dysfunctional childhood rearing at every turn. My twenties were filled with many adventures, but also much pain. Particularly when Drew died, just 3 months shy of my 30th birthday.
The best years, were from 26 to 29. My years with Drew. They were the first carefree years of my life. The first years where I finally understood what it felt like to exhale fully. Those were the birthdays I didn’t want to end. The celebrations that would span a whole week, just because this one person enjoyed celebrating me that much. Both of my parents were dead already, but his overflowing love combined with that of our amazing friends made it much harder to feel the pain. I remember in fact just enjoying my birthdays, fully, without the bittersweet feelings. Instead with only a passing thought to my parents.
Since he died, birthdays have yet again returned to that sort of “hurry up and get it over with” feeling. And I hate it. I hate that I fought so hard for so long in my twenties to finally have peaceful, joyful birthdays only to have them stolen away again. And it isn’t like I don’t try. It certainly isn’t like Mike doesn’t try. Having someone new in your life doesn’t take away the pain or the longing for your other person though. And I’ve learned over time that some years are just harder than others.
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.Read more
There was once a time when I assumed that Shelby would grow up more quickly than her peers. Since she was born, she’s dealt with her mother being sick, going through major surgeries, and ultimately, dying. That a sobering thought when you’re the parent of a little girl, who really just wants to go to school, play with her toys, and do fun things. She would have to grow up fast.
She barely had the chance to be a “normal” girl. Megan was only in a truly healthy state for about two years; the rest of the time was spent between hospitalizations and recovery from her transplant. I cannot begin to describe how terrifying it must have been for Megan, knowing that she was going to be leaving Shelby to grow up without the only normal she had known.
I was ill-equipped to raise her alone...Megan knew it, and I knew it. I haven’t the slightest idea which Disney princess is currently popular, or what the newest trend is in 8 year old fashion. While I’m the one that can help her with her school work and take her hiking, I don’t have her friends parents’ names, let alone contact information. I barely know her shoe size, and I’m still constantly trying to figure out what foods she likes today versus yesterday.
You don’t realize how important the little things are until you don’t have them. It could be something as simple as sitting on the couch, watching TV until you fall asleep with your partner, and it is taken for granted. Then you lose that person.
I’ll admit that I was eased into some of the more technical aspects of the widower role, being that Megan had spent so much time in the hospital over the years. There were plenty of times where I was a temporarily single father. Making sure Shelby got to school and was fed and clothed was never something I struggled intensely with after Megan died.
Even so, there were plenty of things I still took for granted when Megan was here, and some of those things are surfacing over the past few weeks.
Today, my dear and sweet husband, you are not 51.
Today is your birthday. You are not here.
You cant eat cake or blow out candles or makes jokes about getting older and how time flies.
You can't go and see the new "Peanuts" movie with me, our favorite, which comes out today, on your birthday.
We can't joke around about how you will always sit and wait in the pumpkin patch with me , forever, just like Sally did on Halloween night with Linus.
We cant share popcorn today, or share a large root beer that I would only take two sips of and you would drink all the rest.
Today is your birthday, and you are not 51.Read more