Last year I bought myself flowers, for my birthday. I have historically celebrated a birthday week (or two) and have been known not to do it quietly. My last year in Troy, I planned my own GNO party, and even created my own facebook event – this year I did the same with a text picture of yours truly. I’m that person who will try to use every free marketing gimmick in my inbox. (Related: who’s free for Red Robin this month?!)
This might come across sounding quite brattish, as if I make all the noise in order to get people to celebrate me. But that’s not the case. I am surrounded by loving and friends and family who remember me, without my noise. I don’t have to celebrate my own birthday; I get to.
My special day falls amid a string of October dates that my favorite people on this earth marked with black pens. My husband and his family lost his 16-year-old sister suddenly. My best friend buried her mother after a hateful illness. A dear patron saint of our church died abruptly years before we were ready for her to go. Another young boy in our local school system fell to October’s cruel grasp a few years ago. A former employer will face the dreaded two-year mark of grief for her husband. All within this span of 31 days.
Needless to say, no one in my town likes October anymore. Pumpkin spice can’t wash away the bitter taste of loss. My dear friend Kristy says you can step into the crisp morning and smell death in the air.
And here I am, buying flowers and drinking margaritas and asking everyone to smile for the picture. Rude, right?
Living in the wake of loss with those close to me has provided me new wisdom, such as, people say stupid things from a good heart. “Heaven needed another angel” is at the top of the Don’t Say That list. Folks like me who believe in an afterlife in heaven seek to take comfort in those celestial promises. Of course, they’re “in a better place.” But the distance between there and here hurts. Real bad.
Which can only lead me to one conclusion: life, here, matters. If it mattered little, it would hurt little. The more you love, the more you fill days with joy and curiosity and adventure with other people. And the harder it is to see them end.
So if life, here, matters, then… what? I’m only left with one option: to live it in celebration and in gratitude for another year at living it.
I give my loved ones plenty of space to grieve throughout this horrid month. I really do. I try my hardest to be attentive to the calendar, to give space, to nod in solemn agreement that this sucks. We miss her. Grief knows no expiration date and I’ll never ask others to chipper up for the sake of a party – that’s simply not fair.
What I will do is attempt to honor the lives that left too early by approaching my birthday not with disdain at “getting older” but with appreciation that they keep on coming. I’ve got another year on this globe, so what will I do with it? I’m facing 36, an age that others didn’t get. How can I do it justice?
For me, it’s not skydiving or rocky mountain climbing*, but rather the way in which I sow love into my life. It’s more hugs, more forgiveness, more gratitude. It’s acknowledging another work of art in the sunset from my front porch.
It’s also mandating a friend eat unnecessary amounts of nachos with me. It’s acting surprised when my kids hand me a haphazardly wrapped gift. It’s requesting your parents spend too much money renting a cabin in Hocking Hills for the weekend. It’s drinking one more because “it’s my birthday!”
Not in my honor. But in honor of life. In the honor of the gift of another year, another month, another day. I’ll wear the birthday sombrero for a chance at that. I’ll blow out the candles and hold the hands of people I love, at least one. more. time.
*Thanks Tim McGraw for setting that up for me so poetically.