Friday, March 13, 2015

Feliz Cumpleaños

I remember learning in my Spanish class in middle school that the verb "cumplir" means to fulfill or complete so that when we say Feliz Cumpleaños we are wishing a happy filling of our year, and that in some way we are also recognizing the completion of all of our years that have come so far. I've always loved thinking about my birthdays this way, but especially over the last 5 years - from the time of Joe's diagnosis on - there has been a particular drive behind completing the years with vigor.

Getting ready to blow out the candles on the red velvet cake!
Joe was 3 years older than me with a birthday that fell one month after mine. So for exactly 1 month, he would make fun that I was "catching up to him". He loved it and it was one of the things I missed the most when I started celebrating my birthday without him. No one to tell me "I can't believe you're only two years younger than me now, pretty soon you'll catch up to me." Most heartbreaking this year though is that on my birthday I did finally catch up to him and saw the birthday that he never got to see. This would have been Joe's year to turn 40 but instead it's my year to turn 37 - the age he never turned. It was bittersweet. Bitter for what is so obviously missing, but sweet for the unmistakeable blessings that are part of my life right now.

I woke up on my birthday to my excited son wishing me a Happy Birthday and insisting on a hunt around the house for me to find my gift. After some fun searching I found two gift bags in the corner of his room and opened them with Domani cuddled up next to me. He had gone shopping with his Grandma and Peepaw and picked out two pairs of earrings for me. He was so proud of his choices and I was more than happy to wear a pair to church that morning. I'll never forget his smile as he watched me put them on.

Earrings from Domani
Starting first thing in the morning and continuing into the evening, I had hundreds of Facebook posts, messages, and texts to read through wishing me a happy birthday. I was overwhelmed by the love and especially moved by the friends who took to wishing me a "Feliz Cumpleaños" even though I'm certain they didn't know how meaningful it was to me.

Then, for the first time since 2011, I had a gift to open from another important guy. Honestly, I was a little nervous about this one. After all, it's hard in moments like these not to think about Joe, who was the best gift giver I had ever known. So there I was staring at the gift bag that my boyfriend had left for me, wondering how this was going to go. I have no idea why I even hesitated because OF COURSE as it turned out he is quite the thoughtful gift giver himself. He was modest about it, but each thing showed to me that he already knows me well, cares about me, and can make me laugh even when he is not actually there with me. 

You know, because nothing says "I get Anne" like a FunkoPop Spiderman that sits on top of your computer monitor and an armband safety light for running. Or an iTunes gift card without the same Afghan Whigs download restrictions that was put on the one she gave you for Valentines Day or the iPhone 6 case for the iPhone 6 which is still sitting in its box. Or the bath fizzes because it's been a month that has fully depleted Anne's previous stockpile. 

The total mix was perfect and it so made me cry on the spot. Domani wanted to know what was wrong and I of course had to explain to him that we don't always cry because we are sad. Sometimes we cry because we are happy. And mommy was really happy.

There were plenty of other wonderful parts of the day - an unexpected gift from a special friend at church, dinner with my family at a favorite restaurant, the much ballyhooed red velvet cake, and a chance to FaceTime with my sister Naomi in Idaho. It was a full day that capped off a full year of life.

I have celebrated four birthdays now without Joe. After the first three I never imagined I would be in a place again to share it with someone who cares about me as deeply as my boyfriend and I was starting to find my peace with that. I have gone through some dark moments since Joe died, including plenty of times when I questioned whether I could continue on without him. During my most difficult times, I would go to the first two verses of Psalm 121. I had memorized the whole Psalm when I was young - I believe it was also while I was in middle school. 

There were many times over the past three plus years that I went to this Scripture as a way to get me through.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come? My help comes from The Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Wouldn't you know that on this, my 37th birthday, one that was both bitter and sweet - I felt the tears well up once again as I sat in church while the morning Scripture was read. It was, OF COURSE, Psalm 121. And the tears were a perfect mix of happy and sad.

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