Today as I type this it is my fourth Birthday as a widow. Since Mike died I have never celebrated my birthday and felt authentically happy. I have always deeply felt his absence and my birthday has been difficult at best. Really, birthdays have never been a big deal to me - even when Mike was alive. And, I have to admit, he only lived to celebrate one birthday with me. One. *Sigh.
I have lived most of my life absent from Mike so why does the lack of his presence still weigh on me four birthdays later? Well, because it does. Mike was my Heart, my Soul, my Love. And, a big love like ours can not be measured in time. A love like ours does not know time, nor space. It is bigger than these constructs.
As Mike's widow, I have not looked forward my birthday because it just served to pronounce his absence. But, this birthday was different. For no particular reason my grief was lighter. It was a gift. Today, I celebrated my day. I accepted and recognized that I did not die. My life has not ended, only Mike's did. And, of course I wish he was here celebrating me today. But, wishes do not change reality. Mike died. He is not here today. And, he will not be here tomorrow or any other day.
This was my second birthday since Tin passed. Last year I was the big 4-0 and I wasn’t ever expecting to be a widow at that age. One year later and another candle on the cake doesn’t add nearly enough light to illuminate this shadowy part of the year.Read more
Birthdays, after loss, are emotional, difficult, challenging, complicated, heavy, layered events. His birthday. My birthday. Each year they come around, there is an inner sadness feeling that is simply there, the same way that air exists in the universe. It is there, and so I carry it.
Last night I spent my birthday having dinner with a table filled with fellow widowed people. Our Soaring Spirits International social support group that meets 2x per month for lunches and coffees and dinners and incredible understanding, met last evening. At one point, I joked to the table that when I was 39 years old, which would be my last birthday that my husband Don Shepherd was alive, I would have never in a million years predicted that on my 48th birthday, I'd be sharing dinner with 8 other widowed people at Longhorn Steakhouse. Back then, the word or the thought of being "widowed" would have never entered my mind. But things are different now, and here we are ...Read more
Today is Sarah’s birthday. Not Megan’s, not Drew’s. It’s not Mother or Father’s day, or an anniversary. It’s a day where the focus is squarely on her, and not shared with those who are no longer here. Or, at least it’s not supposed to be.
The rub of it is that I’m a widower. Sarah’s a widow. Damn near every experience we have brings thoughts of Megan and/ or Drew in some way. It could be a significant, life-changing experience like becoming engaged, or some minor thing that I do on a random Tuesday that reminds Sarah of something similar that Drew did. Sarah even mentioning wanting to change the color of a wall for the 400th time always reminds me of Megan doing the same thing.
So, in a roundabout way, I tend to think of Megan quite a bit on Sarah’s birthday, and I’m sure she thinks of Drew on mine. They are both just as much a part of us as they were in life, albeit not actively participating and interacting, for obvious reasons.
It’s exactly the way it should be.Read more
Another year, another birthday. Megan would be 38 tomorrow. Each time July 24 rolls around, it’s a slightly different experience for me. Sometimes, the build-up to that day is the difficult part. Other times, it has been acknowledged as “it is what it is” and the day passes without much fanfare.
This year, it’s a mixture of both.
While it is never swept under the rug, the theme that past few weeks has been a ridiculous amount of distraction. My work has been beyond what I would normally call “busy”. We’ve just returned from our trip to Texas. There has been some car trouble, and a lot of work around the house. More often than not, I’m just plain tired.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room to remember that Megan’s birthday falls in July. But I do anyway. I remember it at night, when I’m falling to sleep. I remember it on weekday mornings, when I’m up and preparing for work, but the rest of the house is quiet. My commute is yet another instance where I get a few free minutes to think, and in comes Megan.Read more
It was Mike’s birthday on March 22nd.
On this day, I will always "celebrate" him.
There will never be a birthday of his that I don't think tenderly of 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 this year I went into the day without deciding what this might be. A plan didn't seem as important this year as it did in previous years. Maybe because I have done this twice before, I sort of knew what to expect. As always, the day would come and he would be absent.
I know that there is nothig I need to do to adequately celebrate my dead fiance's birthday. There is nothing I should do as a "proper" widow. The date exists, but Mike does not. And, it is incredibly hard to "celebrate" when the person you are honoring is absent; but, for me, I can not let the day pass without acknowledging it.
This is his third birthday I have celebrated without him. And, it passed easier than the two previous ones. I am not sure why, but I was not as emotional this year. Of course I missed him, like I do every single day; but on this third birthday the missing was not super overwhelming. I simply missed him as usual; and, not particularly more intensely because it was his birthday. You would assume that this would make me happy because maybe this is progress. But, like all things in grief, this change was bittersweet. I don't feel good about it or necessarily bad about my less extreme emotional response to Mike's birthday. It did surprise me though. I think maybe I am getting "used" to Mike's absence. Maybe I am beginning to "accept" his deadness. I hate that he died and I am not sure I will ever accept his death in full. But, after nearly 2.5 years living without him I think being alone has become routine.
Below, I have written about the "birthday routine" I have developed to help me successfully celebrate Mike's day without him. Maybe this will help others who are facing a birthdate without their person. ~S.
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 organize something. If I don't plan something, then grief leads me places I don't want to go. And, this year, I decided that having a loose plan was good enough. I followed my instincts and I suggest you do too. This year, I didn't need to organize an elaborate celebration to mark Mike's third unbirthday.
Still, 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 placed with love 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. (And, I cried a lot less than I expected on his third birthday.)
Before I leave, I will read Mike his birthday letter. And, then, I will cry some more. My graveside visit is very precise and somewhat 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.
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, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man she loves. But, this will have to do.
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 believe that we naturally "celebrate" our person, in their absence, every day of the year.
These last few years, I didn't buy him a birthday card, instead I wrote him a heartfelt letter. I also did not buy him a gift because, well, he was dead and he couldn't open it. But, it felt strange to "celebrate" his birthday with no gifts. I felt the need to figure out how to make his birthday feel more like a real and authentic birthday celebration. Then, all of a sudden, an idea came to me.
Mike died. But, I didn't. I am still very much alive. So, thinking outside the box, I bought myself a gift to celebrate Mike's birthday. It felt kind of strange and awkward. But, I also felt good because I know that it made him happy that I was doing something special for me - in honor of him - on his birthday.
My gesture had nothing to do with the "gift" itself. The gift was symbolic because I actively acknowledged that I was still here. I celebrated that I am alive and that I can still enjoy life; while also remembering and honoring Mike.
I've decided that it will always be my tradition to gift myself something on Mike's birthday. When he was alive he spoiled me; and, he loved to surprise me with gifts. He bought me inexpensive little trinkets and he also gave me very beautiful gifts. It was never the gift that was important to me. It was the way in which the gift was given to me. Mike gave to me from his heart. Whatever he offered me was given with all his love; and, therefore, it was a treasure to me.
When Mike was alive, everyday felt like a celebration. Ordinary days were magical. And, I want those days back. I want to be able to share my life with him the way we imagined we would. But, this can’t be. So instead here are some words to help you know the man I love.
There was always a bit of competition between Megan and I as to who could be the “favorite” parent. It was playful, obviously, but between the two of us, we were always trying to get the “better” birthday present for Shelby, or take her to the more memorable thing to do, or tell the funniest joke. Whomever could make Shelby laugh harder got to “win” that battle.
Megan won, more often than not. When Shelby was younger, it was Disney princesses and ice-capades. Pink everything and dance competitions. Every so often though, I would swoop in with something like fishing or a funny “dad” joke (to Shelby, at least), and I would get to win that day’s competition.
All of this was in good fun, and it only benefitted Shelby. She got to experience multiple events, types of hobbies, or memories that she wouldn’t have otherwise. It helped her form the interests she has today.
But, as I am sure you are aware, considering the fact that you are reading this on the Soaring Spirits website, Megan died a few years back.Read more
Today is my birthday and of course I miss Natasha even more, if that’s even possible. She was always so good at arranging brunch, parties and dinners--Natasha had such a raw flair for celebrations. So, sitting across from my daughter for my birthday dinner is wonderful, but also rather quiet. Why is it just us two? This isn’t right! My love for Natasha has not diminished at all, if anything, it has become stronger as I have learned to let certain marital issues go. Time is so fleeting, so why waste time with trivial life issues? Our marriage was not perfect, but our love was deep. We definitely had our issues, but our kind of love translates into a loss that cannot be put into words. I had to cremate the only person I have every completely felt a strong connection to. It feels like a volcano has erupted and blown the earth’s crust to bits and I am left scrambling to secure my footing for my family of two. And of course, trying to stabilize my little family brings up a lot of fear, fear that quickly turns into anger.Read more
I’ve made it through our anniversary, his birthday, Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving and now Christmas. Each one felt empty in ways I couldn’t explain. You truly don’t realize how much a person is part of you until that part is suddenly gone. I made a point for me to be back home with my family for Christmas. My career has made me miss many holidays with family but I couldn’t miss this one. I’d feel too lonely, or so I thought…Read more
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