It hit me all at once while I was out to lunch with one of my best friends last Wednesday. I'm turning 40 in less than 2 months and I have a lot of feelings about it. The only thing is they have so little to do with getting older. Sure, I am catching myself wondering from time to time why I can't seem to remember things quite the way I used to and I am noticing an increasing number of aches and pains setting in. But what I've been feeling is bigger than dreading a few "over the hill" balloons and banners and an aversion to the getting old jokes constantly thrown at me from younger friends and family members.
This was a troubling to my spirit that had started bubbling up more and more each time a conversation turned to what I wanted to do for my birthday this year. It's not that I hadn't thought about it. Maybe I wanted to go on a cruise with my sister or down to Port St. Lucie for Mets Spring Training or perhaps I wanted to throw myself a big party. Each time I would contemplate any of these things (or others) I started feeling outside myself. Then disoriented. Then tight. Then sad.
At first I did write it off to the typical emotions that must come with approaching a milestone birthday, but the more I started really examining what was happening the more I knew it was different. And then, for some reason, what I had started to talk about in bits and pieces at a grief group the week before all became clear for me that Wednesday afternoon over my portobello mushroom sandwich at the Mill Hill Saloon. Because what I wanted more than anything was for Joe to be able to answer those 40th birthday questions with me (or perhaps even for me) and for me to have been able to do the same for him 3 years ago when it should have been his 40th. Missing these milestones with each other is exactly what has been gnawing at me. It has been that uncomfortable chunk sitting in the back corner of my brain and it has been that unsettled part of my heart.
It's another one of those times when grief, even though far removed by years, has snuck back into my life for one more bite at the apple.
I started this blog with a post I wrote on the first birthday I celebrated without Joe. Our respective birthdays continue to be heavy days for me because even without him here physically, they are markers. There always remains the question of what will I do (or not do) on those days and there are always the what ifs that play in my mind. The one thing I have come to realize, though, is that ignoring the day never seems to work. Some years have been better than others, but always he is there in some way.
The Wednesday lunch cry was helpful. It led my friend and I to a discussion about ideas for what I actually wanted to do for my birthday this year (a run with friends and family and perhaps a small birthday dinner) and it freed me to set aside those things which I actually did not want to do (the trips and big parties I would have to plan). We are still talking and planning, but I am confident we will figure something out - even if it means scrapping all the "plans" the day before and doing something completely different.
The cry also provided me the final kick in the ass I needed to do something for myself.
I had been waffling about signing up for my first Spartan race for some time, feeling like I needed a new physical and mental challenge to welcome in my 40th year, but also feeling beaten down about my ability to actually do it. The cleansing tears and conversation with my friend were just the push I needed to sign up. During that lunch break, I finally committed to the race and to the training. Before I was back from my lunch break I had the race confirmation in my email. So, at the end of April I'll be taking on my biggest racing challenge yet - 12+ miles up a mountain with obstacles thrown in. I have my work cut out for me, but as my friend pointed out...this is exactly the kind of thing I thrive on.
And it is exactly what I need.