Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Her 31st Birthday

A “side-note” before the post: Please note the new Important Dates section in the sidebar. This was borne out of a comment made by womanNshadows with regard to my previous post. (Thanks for spurring this idea on). I would encourage other widowed bloggers to do something similar, as it gets hard to keep up with all of the different specific dates, and it would be nice to pray for each other more fervently during those days that are likely to be the most difficult. That being said, keep in mind that many widow/ers in the sidebar are experiencing anniversaries yet this month.

One might be inclined to think that, due to my lack of posting in recent weeks, Grief has decided to leave me alone for a bit. It has been quite the contrary. We have managed to stay pretty busy, but there have been some significant dates (see sidebar), some major changes (see future posts), and some simple conversations (again, see future posts) during which it has managed to rear its ugly little head.

Not the least of which was my wife’s 31st birthday.

It seems strange to refer to it as such, since she never got to experience her 30th. Or, for that matter, her 29th. But July 21 would have been her 31st birthday. If she had still been here to celebrate such an occasion.

Instead, we were left to recognize it alone, but with her family for the first time since her passing. I say recognize with purpose. Gone are the celebrations that we used to have - usually a quiet night out to dinner and a movie, or after our daughter was born, a family dinner out, with a birthday date to follow another night. No, these have been replaced by a quiet recognition on my part the last two years. But now that my daughter is old enough to understand dates and times, it has become appropriate to share what specific dates mean. Or should mean.

Or would have meant.

I woke up in the back bedroom at my in-laws home in the Midwest that morning, a home they did not own when she was still here. I wonder if the memories would have been more unbearable if the day had begun in their old house, the one in which she had done the majority of her “growing up”. I will never know that answer. But I do know that there were plenty of memories to go around that day.

I followed the scent of fresh-brewed coffee into the kitchen, and sat for a nice breakfast with my mother-in-law. My father-in-law had gone to the store and my daughter had long-since eaten and was watching tv in another room. I rather enjoy these morning chats with my mother-in-law over coffee on the days she doesn’t have to work. But today, she reminded me way too much of my wife.

For anyone who knew my wife, it was always a surprise to them when they met her mother. One just couldn’t help but notice the uncanny resemblance. When my wife would remark on this, a fact that she actually enjoyed (unlike most women!), I would simply smile and tell her that I enjoyed it too, as I had a good idea of what she would look like at fifty, and I was definitely okay with that. As my wife started to lose weight, first on purpose after our daughter was born and later from complications of her illness, the resemblance became even more unreal.

So on this, her birthday morning, I tried hard to carry on a meaningful conversation with a woman who was hurting as much or more than me, while trying to ignore the fact that she looked so drastically like the woman for whom we were hurting.

It must have worked. Or if not, she was at least gracious enough not to call attention to my obvious pain.

The majority of the day was to be spent at the local 4-H fair watching our nieces show their hogs. We had missed their steer show while I was at my conference, but had managed to make it back in time for their dairy beef show, fashion review, and (later in the week) livestock auction. Since it was the only day we could get together with a friend of ours (hers from high school, mine from college, then ours together once we realized we all knew each other), we agreed to meet at the fair. It was wonderful to see her and she was able to spend a good portion of the afternoon with us. She also arranged for us to see another friend of my wife’s from high school, who happened to be in town and had not seen us for a couple of years, so that was a nice surprise as well. The mutual friend and I are in the same field, so we always have a lot to talk about and the conversation flowed easily. It was really good to see her.

Sounds like a pretty good day, huh?

And it would have been, but for the blasted memories. You see, the last summer we visited family before my wife passed away, we spent some time at that very fair. In those very stands. Watching some of those very kids (my nieces anyway). This friend was not with us that day, but my wife’s best friend from college, who happens to have the same name as this friend, was. That year we were able to see the steer show before we went away for our first and last ever anniversary trip (our early school calendar had prevented us from doing so in previous years). We spent the day with our other same-name friend watching the girls win awards for their steers and showmanship and the like. Some of our best pictures of my wife and her friend and us as a family came from that day. They are some of the last pictures I have in which my wife looked happy. And healthy.

The summer after my wife passed away, this friend gave me a scrapbook of their friendship she had made. The last page is simply a copy of our family picture taken that day, with lyrics to a song I have since come to hold very dear (and will share in another post sometime down the road). The book still sits on the buffet just inside our front door.

That evening we went to dinner at the home of my wife’s older sister and only sibling. She is a tremendous chef, but her meal was toned-down this day. My wife’s birthday was not mentioned among us that night, nor would it be. Her mother and I had discussed it briefly that morning, and I discussed it privately with my daughter, but that was all that was to be said. Though we all knew one another was hurting, we opted to bear our grief in silence. Alone together, as it were.

Over the next day or two, my mother-in-law started to once again remind me only of herself, and I found that much easier to bear. I joined Facebook and found that both my sister-in-law and father-in-law had posted a subtle remark that would have let only those close to them know what the day would have been (if they had not known already). And I decided that I much prefer remembering this and other days like it alone with my daughter.

Which is probably how it will be remembered come next summer.


  1. i am humbled that i inspired what i think of as your idea of posting Important Dates. after commenting here will go and do it on my own site. your birthday won't be hard to remember as it is one day after my own.

    so beautiful, the way you graced this particular day. your mother-in-law and your daughter are blessed to have you, your particular character and personality, in their lives.

    your talking about celebrating your wife's 31st birthday rang so true as to how i think and believe. i know that i will always be a widow, always be married to my Dragon. i was asked about it in the "for now" perimeter and stated: "i am much too young for Medicare and too much in love with my Marine to ever get that kind of close to anyone again. it wouldn't be fair." your wife is 31. my husband just had his 57th birthday. we just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. difficult days. you are fortunate to be able to share them as you choose with your mother-in-law, someone who understands what you feel.

    i wanted to share with you a poem by Wordsworth, someone i read as much as e. e. cummings. i have pasted in a link to the whole poem below but wanted to give you the last verse.. it's a conversation with a child who speaks about her siblings, but the foundation of the poem and your writing above weaves through each other.

    "But they are dead; those two are dead!
    Their spirits are in heaven!"
    'Twas throwing words away; for still
    The little Maid would have her will,
    And said, "Nay, we are seven!"

    you write eloquently. your continuing love is apparent. you are a gift to your little girl.

  2. Yesterday would've been my wife's 35th birthday. My in-laws were notably upset when I told them we wouldn't be joining them that day so I reluctantly changed our plans so that we could join them.

    While I'm thankful for the company...I prefer to keep certain events reserved for me and my children. Next year it will be just us, our little nuclear family, but I appreciate that my in-laws still include me as family.

    I've met so many that don't have a good relationship with their in-laws following such a loss. I guess we are well off in that respect.

  3. WNS - How about if we share credit for the "important dates" idea? Glad to hear our birthdays are so close as well.

    Thank you for sharing the poem and your thoughts. Your words are both insightful and comforting, as always.

    WD - I am in a unique position as my closest family lives 800 miles away. So this was the first time I have had to physically share an anniversary with someone other than my daughter.

    You and I are indeed both fortunate and blessed to have good relationships with our families-in-law.

  4. It sounds to me as though you chose your mother-in-law well.

    Hard experience tells me that it is a real gift that she can recognise your pain and choose not to compete directly with it.

    I didn't really understand this equation when I needed to, in part because I wasn't given the chance. But when we think about how precious our respective daughters are (especially now) then it all falls into a clearer focus.

  5. Roads - I've always thought that you "marry the whole family", so I made sure I had a good idea of what I was getting into before I popped the question. I can only hope I will use the same good judgment if/when I should marry again.