My birthday passed by last week. Passed by is an oversimplification—my birthday squared me up, hit me like a truck, then dragged me behind for days and miles. It felt like a week of revisiting my early grief immediately after Kara died.
A week before my birthday, I was having dinner with several families who often ask how I am; they are safe, and answering honestly helps me heal. On this day, I answered saying how glad I was that I had made it through all the birthdays, but I was interrupted: What about yours—isn’t it next week? That is when my heart sank and tears began to travel down my face.
I have never been a big fan of my birthday, and it was Kara who always made the day great. But I did not have her to make this day great. Early in our marriage I learned that Kara wanted to be celebrated with crowds and surprises, but I wanted to just be with her. This year, I internally dreaded the day because I lacked the person I wanted to be with. I did all that I could to ignore it.
But my friends did not ignore it—they celebrated me with joy. I cried and laughed and ate Mexican food and cake. And yet my grief still swelled up—despite the fun party, I missed being celebrated as being someone’s favorite person; Kara wasn’t here to celebrate me as her favorite.
The kids’ birthdays were hard but I could focus on them, their hearts, and their needs. Grief is somewhat easier when you have something to focus on. My day I looked to ignore because a birthday is a celebration of life, and my life has been so reshaped that I am still trying to organize it.
The day before my birthday I received several boxes of Kara’s final book, And It Was Beautiful. I opened a box, thumbed to a page, and read this:
A Poem For Jason’s Birthday
Let’s run away today.
How about we hike the South Route,
Sit and read our books on a blanket at the Glen.
We can do laundry at Stoners,
Let’s do lunch at La Casita.
I’ll get a bean burrito and you can get
Cheese and chicken enchiladas.
Let’s walk the beach in California,
And ride your long board on the boardwalk.
Again, Mexican food sounds right.
And who needs to be a tourist
When we can talk for endless hours.
How about we have coffee at Encore
And run over to the farmer’s market.
Pesto pizza, pesto pasta, pesto all day.
Let’s move to Colorado.
How about a walk up Clear Creek, the library,
Table Mountain Inn for lunch.
Let’s have a baby.
Asheville sounds good, Blue Moon Coffee, Doc Chey’s, another baby.
Let’s sneak away to the beach.
Old streets of Charleston.
Let’s eat southern fare
And swim through the humidity.
How about we move down the mountain.
Why don’t we eat with Lois and Kenny.
How about we go on a date with Jerry and Darnell?
Sit on the porch with Skip and Autumn.
Have a backyard fire with Chad and Nichole.
Let’s have another baby!
For your birthday let’s run away to Nashville
And enjoy the love of a sister and brother
And countless nieces and nephews.
Let’s eat barbecue and drink more coffee.
How about another baby? Why not!
Why don’t we run away to Hilton Head,
We will take turns playing in the water and tending the babies.
We will enjoy too much food, and
Long walks on the beach cut short by a tired child.
Why don’t you move me back to the place it all started?
La Casita with kids, the Crags with kids,
Ute Valley Park with kids, fires at night,
Coffee, snuggles, books, kids’ books.
Let’s pretend that today isn’t surgery.
Let’s pretend Thursday isn’t coming.
Let’s run away today and celebrate you.
Let’s coffee together, shower together,
Enjoy a fire together, enjoy Mexican food together.
Let’s read a book, talk about our favorite parts.
Let’s drop the kids off at school with prayers and kisses.
Let’s do a dance party and cook something yummy together.
Happy birthday, Boyfriend, Best friend,
Partner in crime, All-time favorite!
I never for one solitary second deserved your love,
But I’m so very thankful for it.
Let’s go to surgery but spend the day daydreaming
About the glorious life behind us, and the wonderful life
Ahead of us! 1-4-3! You have
Given me a lifetime of stanzas! I love you!
I read this over and over, through tears and maybe some audible groans. And it was beautiful—my life, her life, our life together. And now my days are still beautiful and I know that the hard work of loving someone and being loved is worth the grief of loss. I would do it all over again!