The Un-Birthday

Today marks the second birthday that we will be remembering Tricia without the joy of her physical presence.

I’m discovering that moving on from a loss doesn’t mean we erase the significant days of those people we love who most shaped and shared our lives from our calendars. It may just mean that we change the context in which we commemorate them. Just because I change the context of something doesn’t change the significance of it.

I have decided that on this side of things I am going to take a different approach to the way I observe Tricia’s birthday. Frankly, I am clueless how to celebrate something as personal as a birthday without the one I’m celebrating being present anyway. So this year I am choosing to look at it like the scene in Alice in Wonderland where the rabbit and the hatter are throwing themselves a “un-birthday” party. Alice, of course has no concept of what a un-birthday is but she soon learns it is the other 364 days of the year that aren’t her birthday that are worthy of celebration.

This year I am celebrating Tricia’s birthday by moving toward celebrating her “un-birthdays” – those moments we have over the other 364 days of the year that remind us of a beautiful life. I will celebrate her when I talk to our daughter and see glimpses of her in Lauren. Lauren’s laugh, her strong sense of principles, a certain determination, the way she waves her hand to make a point, and the sparkle in her blue eyes that she inherited. These are the daily joys that come on the “un-birthdays” which I can celebrate repeatedly.

I celebrate Tricia as I remember something she would say to me in the form of encouragement when I am feeling like I’m swinging in the wind at things that don’t come to fruition fast enough to suit me.

Sometimes when I drive in to Nashville from being out of town and see the skyline on the horizon I remember how fearful I was of moving here over twenty-five years ago and I quietly mumble to myself, “Thanks, Sweet Pea,” for her believing in me more than I did.

I can even celebrate her in the fact that she had our deck built with the stairs going down the wrong side of the house (in my opinion) and I laugh at that disagreement with every trip down those steps.

There won’t be a cake with Tricia’s name on it today. We aren’t going to get together and ceremoniously blow out her candles. Those are beautiful expressions but those aren’t ours to do now. What I will do is continue to celebrate her “un-birthday” tomorrow and each day when I see the glimpses of what she left here – a beautiful, bright daughter, a host of friends, the lasting impressions of her generosity, a circle of people she impacted and empowered, and a laugh that will stay in my mind as long as I remember her.

And occasionally, when I trudge up and down those blasted deck stairs that honestly should have been on the opposite side of the house.

From Here

In the two weeks since my wife went to heaven processing thoughts for me has been like being inside of one of those wind machines snatching at swirling dollar bills. My thoughts swirl around me and only some of them I actually manage to retain.

I’m not one who by nature considers myself to be scattered. Yet, in these last ten plus days I have started the washing machine and forgotten to put in clothes. I’ve walked away leaving the dishwasher door hanging open never putting away the entire bottom rack of dishes. I’ve even gone to appointments on the wrong days because I’m not reading my calendar accurately. Some details I’ve carried out fine. Others are blowing around in my brain as I clutch at them only to find they’ve slipped through my grasp.

Those have been the easy things, to be honest. Over the past fifteen years I have been so oriented to watching the clock in order to make sure I was home in time to turn Tricia in her bed or make sure she had her lunch that I feel out of sorts when I realize those tasks are no longer necessary. Nothing takes me as long as it used to. I wake up every morning and still wonder if I should go check on her first thing. I’ve reached for my phone to call her and see if I can bring her something from the store. If I sit down in the living room to watch TV I have to remind myself that she won’t be lonesome in the back of the house without me coming in there. I don’t have to offer to share my dessert or make sure her laptop is powered up or turn in my order for medical supplies.

I’m going through closets, drawers, and keepsakes of hers and I find myself wanting to ask her if she thinks we should save something. When is it okay to throw away a person’s hairbrush? What do you do with keepsakes that meant more to the person you lost than they ever did to you? Is it okay to admit that I never liked the color of our bathroom even though she did?

I feel a bit like the man who went to sleep on the airplane and missed his connection. When he got off the plane he expected to be in Cleveland and instead he found himself in San Diego. I love the weather in San Diego but I’m used to the weather in Cleveland. I can predict the weather in Cleveland. I have no idea what people do in San Diego.

From here I will learn to enjoy the different weather. From here I will adjust to the vortex where a week feels like a month. I will learn to think with more intentionality. From here I will continue to grope at random thoughts however incomplete knowing that eventually I will get to retain a few more.