I used to love the month of September. As a kid, shopping for your back to school outfit was pretty much the best thing ever. Shiny new school supplies? Yes please!! In university, September was a great month…assignments and papers weren’t really due yet, but everyone was back at school and in full on socializing mode. Even once I was fully in the adult world, September still felt full of promise. New beginnings. A fresh start. Now that I have kids, September is the parent’s version of Christmas. THE KIDS GO BACK TO SCHOOL!! And now that global warming is melting the earth, the weather in September is generally pretty glorious. I got married in September, so our wedding anniversary is at the beginning of the month. And my birthday is at the end of the month. So all in all, September historically has been a month filled with sunshine, new beginnings and celebrations. But this past August, my husband died unexpectedly. So that sucked. And September was no longer a month filled promise and sunshine. September fucking sucked. It was my first month living at home as a new widow. It was my first month parenting my young kids on my own while dragging the grief monster around on my shoulder. I faced and survived my wedding anniversary early in the month. But I still had to face the next shitty widow milestone…my first birthday without him. My first birthday alone.
Somewhere in my thirties, birthdays became less and less exciting. As a kid, it’s pretty much the greatest day of the year. In your 20s, it’s an opportunity to get shitfaced with your friends. But then it starts to feel less fun to get drunk with your friends simply because you have more grey hair. So while my birthday had organically become less of a big deal over the years, Kevin still always made me feel special. He always made it clear he was glad I was born. There was always a sweet card for me when I woke up. And a huge Kevin bear hug as he wished me happy birthday. A bouquet of flowers. When we first moved in together, Kevin brought a childhood birthday tradition with him to our home. On your birthday, you got to pick a sugared cereal you wanted to have. Lucky charms became my go to choice over the years, so there would always be Lucky charms on the counter in the morning. And guaranteed, he and I would have another bowl together late at night. Despite the quiet of the day, I still felt loved and celebrated by him. Now staring down this impending milestone, I wondered how stifling the loneliness would feel on that day. All those little touches would be gone.
The actual day rolled around, and as expected I was sad. Everyday there are things that remind me he’s gone and I’m alone. But your birthday without your husband? That really fucking hurts. My kids are young, so it wasn’t like they could pick up the slack and shower me with love and attention. They just showered me with more whines and more ‘mama! Can you help me??’ Happy fucking birthday to me. However, when we walked out the door to school that morning, there was a bouquet of flowers on the porch waiting for me. It was from Kevin’s best friend. My jaw dropped open. It was like Kevin had sent his friend to bring me flowers. That night, as my parents and I sat on the front porch, having a glass of wine while the girls played on the porch, a neighbour from down the street arrived with another bouquet of flowers. She hadn’t been able to attend the funeral and wanted to extend her condolences. She didn’t even know it was my birthday. I don’t know what I believe about where Kevin is or if he is still with me, but receiving two bouquets of flowers on my birthday certainly felt like Kevin’s influence. We had a nice dinner that night, and my girls proudly sang me happy birthday and helped me blow out my candles. I felt loved and lonely all at the same time. Such a bittersweet place to be.
The lessons in young widowhood are vast, varied and abundant. However, your brain is not functioning in any way, shape or form so the lessons are slow to be received. It’s a bit of catch 22 really. So much awesome stuff to learn, become a better, wiser, more compassionate person blah blah blah. But do it all while you can’t think straight, can’t sleep and can’t stop crying and/or swearing? Okay. I’ll get right on that. However, one of the first lessons my brain did start to process and absorb in those first early weeks was that I was the architect of my happiness. With the absence of another grown up in my day to day life, if I wanted to social contact, I had to do the inviting, the organizing and the social wrangling. Of course, my friends have been fantastic and have been there in spades with invitations and company. But I couldn’t just wait for plans to materialize. I could host stuff. I could make plans. And so I did. Without a husband to organize my birthday party, I put on my big girl widow panties, and threw myself a birthday party. And it was fucking fun.
And when you turn 42 just a mere 6 weeks after your husband expectedly dies on you, let me tell you…people show up to your party! This wasn’t a night when people can’t make it. And they were up for it. And truth be told, now that my addict husband was dead, booze made its sweet sweet return to my house and to my lips. My birthday party night was no exception. The plan was to have my 8 best girl friends, their husbands and children over for an easy dinner as well as champagne and cake. The kids would run wild while the grown ups had some cocktails. When one girlfriend showed up with 7 bottles of prosecco, we all teased her that she had seriously gone overboard with the bubbles. However, we plowed through those and then some. The party turned into an epic dance party spanning the generations. The kids all danced on the furniture, including the coffee table. They all got so hot they ended up taking off their shirts and dancing the night away, while us, their parents, danced alongside of them (we kept our shirts on though!). It was a night I will never forget. I don’t think any of the kids ever will either. In fact, anytime my girls and I have a kitchen dance party now, my youngest takes her clothes off and asks if she can dance on the coffee table. I always chuckle to myself when I hear myself saying ‘No you can’t. We only dance on tables at parties.’ Top notch parenting right there.
I was overwhelmed with love for my friends for making this such a fun night for me and for our kids. And yet again, cue that fucking hard widow face punch. Kevin was missing this. He was missing seeing his kids have the time of their life, shirtless, sweaty, and dancing to some of his favourite songs on the coffee table. He was missing my birthday. It was an amazing night with our friends and it was his own fault he was missing it. I cried for hours after everyone left. The additional glasses of Prosecco I consumed while crying certainly didn’t help. I survived the night (and the hangover next day!) but the sting of him missing the important stuff remains. My 42nd birthday was like no other birthday I’ve celebrated. I felt loved by so many, but I also felt so lonely. It was the first major event since his death where I felt this overwhelming sense of loneliness in a room full of people who love me. I hope that with time the sense of love i felt from my friends continues, but the loneliness lessens. It hasn’t yet. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll be over here, drinking some Prosecco while my kids dance on the furniture.