It's been ten years since my first birthday after Joe died. When March 8th rolled around in 2012, it had only been three months since that awful day. My grief overwhelmed every aspect of my life and I felt like no measure of joy would ever return. I had an 18 month old son and was facing the prospect of raising him alone - something that was obviously never the plan. I felt helpless and like no one could possibly understand. It was the hardest birthday of my life to date.
Don't get me wrong. I had plenty of family, friends, and co-workers who supported me. There was evidence of the legacy of love that Joe left all around, but I still felt lost and painfully alone. So, I returned to the thing that has often brought me comfort. Unsure of what else to do to work my way out of the grief box I was in, I started writing. This time, though, I didn't take to writing in a private journal as I had done since I was young. I took a leap and started this blog. Unsure if anyone would read it (aside from my own parents and Joe's mom), but sure that I needed it, I wrote my first post with tears in my eyes and a knot in the pit of my stomach.
In the ten years since, I have written and published 160 posts since that very first one. Each post, whether it was about my grief or not, helped me keep moving forward. Over the years, I've attended (and eventually led) grief support groups. I've consumed media of all kinds from books to music to art and have had countless conversations with friends and strangers alike about life and death. Last year, I completed a certificate class in End of Life care. I've been on a path that I never would have predicted, but one that has both challenged me and brought me peace and comfort.
Last night, I found myself having an intense yet beautiful conversation with my son about death. He had some burning questions on his mind and wanted to talk.
That moment, which could have been extremely awkward and painful, made me thankful for all of the open talks we had about death in my family growing up. For my own father who hasn't shied away from letting us know that he has song and scripture suggestions written in the back of his Bible. For my G-Mom who shared openly with me about her own grieving after my grandfather died and who carefully wrote each of us a heartfelt note which we received after she died. For my good friends who held me accountable for finalizing my own will and life insurance and end of life wishes when no on else our age was even considering such things.
It doesn't mean that death sucks any less, but at least all of these positive influences and all of this grappling has helped me land in a place where I can acknowledge death as a natural part of life.
Joe is still present in our lives - in some obvious ways and in some ways that are only visible to those who know Whether it's a song, which at one time brought overwhelming sadness, but now warms my heart and reminds me of my beloved Joe or a son who at 11 years old embodies mannerisms and habits that can only be traced back to his dad, there is progress. It's a progress that likely won't be complete until my own death, but I'm thankful for each step that allows me to breathe a little deeper and live a little more freely.
I expect this year to be a quiet birthday. I'll get up early to take in the sunrise on a walk around my neighborhood. I'll have a full day of work with a scheduled break to enjoy a birthday lunch with my sister. I'll attend some meetings in the evening and then do something fun with my not-so-little-anymore guy. And I'll be thankful that I get to celebrate another birthday - even if it is still without Joe.
|From my 30th birthday
One of my favorite birthday photos with Joe