Monday, Monday

August is almost in the books and school here in Canada starts up shortly.  This time of year also brings with it the memories of birthdays past.  It would have been Kevin’s birthday tomorrow.  It was a week long event, at minimum.  His sister’s birthday follows two days later.  It was busy, and demanding, and absolutely exhausting, and I miss it so much.  His poor sister is left dealing with the hollowness of what was and now what is.  She’s actually talked about moving her birthday celebration to a different time.

Although Kevin’s birthday was a good thing, the impending return to work was not so good.  So while we celebrated birthdays, there was always the underlying awareness that soon structure would return to the house with Kevin going off to school.  He’d get his old 10 speed bicycle out and check the brakes, make sure his carrier basket was sturdy and well attached and that was about it.

As he himself would say, he was a man of extreme highs and lows.  Returning to work started the journey to low, and the first day of school when he met the kids in the classroom could either take him right to the bottom or level him out.  I remember one year he had a class with a couple of “identified” kids in it, not unusual, but it was the six or seven that should have been identified that were the problem.  When you have 28 kids in the class, having eight or nine identified kids  could result in chaos for everyone, a poor learning experience for others, and frustration for the teacher.

August this year started off poorly with the death of a very remarkable woman who was my daughter’s best friend’s mom.  She was also a former teaching colleague of my husband, a fun loving, kind and personable woman.  Her drive took her out of the classroom and into administration and her legacy is enormous as it was her incredible vision, passion and commitment that moved forward Indigenous awareness, education and opportunity within our province.  That was her day job, her full time job was as a mother, wife and friend to so very many.   She was only 52 years old.  Her loss is tremendous and will resonate for some time.  I can well imagine how the family is feeling.  Her death took me back to a place that can swallow you up in darkness instantly.

Today I heard a song by the Strumbellas and one line really  hit home.  “And I don’t want a never-ending life, I just want to be alive while I am here.”  That’s what is left for us to do, be alive while we are here.



Happy Birthday to me

I had a birthday earlier this month. Not a big affair for me ever, and even less of an event since Kevin died.  A nice dinner, lots of well wishes and an early night.  The day passed and I went in to work as usual the next day.

Always my day begins with a trip to the cafeteria for my cup of tea.  That day, as I stood at the cash to pay for my tea, the cashier said to me, “You know there’s something written on your shoulder.  You’ve got chalk on your shoulder.”   I had on a royal blue sweater and I glanced at my shoulder but I couldn’t  quite read the word there.  “It says ‘love’.  Someone wrote love on your shirt.”  She’s a sweet girl that I see everyday, so with familiarity she pulled me over and tried to brush off my shirt.  Finally satisfied, she let me go, laughing that someone would do such a thing.

i walked back to my desk where I was stopped along the way by yet another co-worker who said, “You know you have the word love written on your shoulder, don’t you.”  She, too, tried to brush it off but I stopped her, saying “Don’t bother, Liz already tried to get it off, that’s as good as it gets.”  Frankly, I didn’t want it brushed off at that point, I felt like it was a message for me.  You see I had originally planned on wearing that top on my birthday but opted at the last minute for a heavier sweater since the day was so darn cold.

Who has chalk around the house?  That’s what it was written in, nice white teacher-type chalk.  Kevin was a teacher.  So in my crazy world, to me, that message in chalk was a gift from my husband, from Kevin, for me on my birthday.  Love that I can wear everywhere and anywhere.  It was a visible mark, a written word for the world to see, and a reminder to me that I carry his love with me for ever and always; love that is there whether I see it or not.

Crazy story, puzzling coincidence, and absolutely true. The best birthday gift ever.

Happy Birthday

Not much more to say.  This would have been Kev’s birthday.  We would have started celebrating days ago when he planned out exactly what he wanted.  The kids would have all been here.  Family and friends, helping us enjoy the day.  Enjoyment for Kevin, work for me.  What I wouldn’t give to be complaining about how much work it was.

Today’s reality was it was an easy day for me work-wise, but one filled with silent tears.  Great memories, but memories that are overshadowed by heartache and sadness.  Maybe one day I will be able to wake up on the 28th of August and not feel the sorrow, but that day isn’t here yet.  So for today it is Happy Birthday thoughts and wishes for a man whose melody continues on in the great cosmos as stardust, magical beautiful stardust.

It’s My Birthday

Or at least it was.  Yesterday I had my first birthday without my husband, Kevin, around.  He was around for the last 33 of them.  It was a day like any other day, which is how it needed to be.   So how was it really?  It went like this.  I woke up in the morning and cried.  Not body-racking sobs, just quiet tears of sadness.  I got a few text messages from my kids and family, gentle and tentative reach-outs to let me know they hadn’t forgotten, but also that they were unsure.  So was I.  I debated whether or not I would be able to go to work.  Could I keep it together? It would have been so easy to stay home.  The last thing I wanted to do was see anyone.

I went to work. A few people were aware it was my birthday, and so I had a few well-wishers.  I did what anyone would do, thanked them and then moved on.  Mercifully, there was no fuss.  It was a day like any other day.  Except that I knew it wasn’t.  The thing is not to think about it.  Easier said than done, but when I was able to immerse myself in reading, I actually forgot for a while.  It all came back though when it was time to head home.

Pulling into the driveway I was, again, crying – tears streaming down my face.  There would be no one to greet me at the door.  No one to question me about working on my birthday.  Nothing bugged Kevin more than when I would work on my birthday.  He was amazed that anyone would.  Birthdays in his world were about being indulged and being indulgent.  So if I worked on my birthday, I knew when I walked in the door he’d be telling me to think about getting ready to go out.  He’d ‘splash the cash’ and take me and whichever of the kids were around out for a nice dinner. My daughter’s fiance is born on the same day as me.  So we merged the celebrations and still Kevin paid – he was on the hook no matter what – and he was resigned to that fact and happily coughed up the cash.

So this year I came home to an empty house – no Kevin.  It’s just so very sad.  I did, however, have plans for dinner and so was only home for an hour or so and then back out for dinner with the ladies.  A different group of ladies – the ones from my grief group.  The night was really just a get-together as a final thank you to the facilitators and members of the group for sharing and caring through the eight weeks of the class.  They did know it was my birthday and it was handled very well.  They’ve faced these milestones before and understand that for this year, at least, it’s modified slightly.  It’s not ‘Happy Birthday”; it may sound almost the same, but this year for me it’s ‘have a birthday’.  That’s all it was, this year I have a birthday.  Maybe next year it will be back to happy birthday, I am not sure.  The year ahead is unknown, the birthdays are unrelenting – they come regardless of circumstance.  It’s up to me I guess as to whether I have a birthday or I have a Happy Birthday.

Another Milestone

On the weekend I faced yet one more milestone.  Milestones come in many forms, spurred by direct and indirect associations.  We think of the first birthday, anniversary, Christmas and so on, but there are other firsts that we have to face.  The first time you enter the house and really, finally, realize that you are on your own.  The first time you find yourself in a situation that you can’t control, but you have to, because you are on your own.  Learning to do things that weren’t “your role” in the relationship, and the frustration of being clouded by grief while you try to do your learning.  All those firsts have to be faced.  Sometimes it feels like the first time over and over again; walking into the house at the end of the day is my perpetual first.

The milestone I faced on the weekend was a birthday party.  A lovely, wonderful party for one of my husband’s longtime friends.  It was an afternoon affair, and I knew I was certain to know at least half of the crowd.  I knew that invariably someone would want to talk about Kevin, my late husband.  It’s been over six months now so I’ve developed a coping mechanism that usually can carry me through, and I felt reasonably confident that I could manage it without losing my composure.

Once there I recognized that most of the people in the room had experienced an intense and close loss; I was not the only one.  The loss of a child, parent, spouse – unfortunately, death was too well represented in the room.  I had read somewhere recently that at any one point in time at least 7 to 9 per cent of the people in the world were experiencing extreme grief associated with the death of a close family member.  Certainly we exceeded that number in the group that met on Saturday.

It was a lovely day, and perhaps because almost every one attending had been levelled by death quite recently, it felt as if there was a more heightened awareness and appreciation of living, of life.  Life is what Kevin fought so hard to sustain.  Life is what Kevin brought to a room.  I missed him sorely at the birthday party and I suspect that I was not the only one.  Kevin was outrageous and he would have been in prime form for this particular birthday.

The only time I faltered during the party was at gift opening time.  We were almost to the end when a little boy of about three pulled up a chair beside the man of the hour and said, “Pops, you got gifts?”  It was so sweet that it broke my heart; I think everyone in the room caught their breath, and we all watched as they opened the rest of the gifts together, grandfather and grandson, laughing, joking, loving.  A day to celebrate and appreciate.

It was emotional, I won’t lie.  While I was at the party, I was happy. When I went home it was to an empty house, my perpetual first.  Sleep didn’t come easily that night, there were so many memories that flooded my mind, all good, but poignant.  But, thank God for memories, at the end of the day, thank God for memories.