There’s something about birthdays that call for reflection. I used to love my birthday and would declare the entire month of July my birthday month. I would treat myself for the whole month and tell anyone would tolerate me that it was my birthday. I loved to be celebrated for the one month out of the year. After Tony died, I lost my love for my birthday and celebrations in general felt different. Tony died 2 weeks before my birthday and now, when I think about my birthday I simply think about the devastation of death and loss.

This past July, I turned 40. I don’t honestly know how that happened. It felt like one day I was 36 years old and then I woke up and was turning 40. I’m sure that most people feel that way, but there is something quite special about the grief haze that robs one of time. I can barely remember the first year after Tony died, so memory has been quite a fickle thing these past two years.

If you had asked me three years ago about how I felt about turning 40, I would have told you that I felt great about it and that I was going to throw myself a rocking party. I had the love of my life, a house we bought, a future we were building, planning a wedding and children. Life was great, and I was riding that wave. My life was so full, and I felt so lucky to “have it all” from a career that I was passionate about and a relationship that I adored.

Tony’s sudden death changed everything in my life. I was now married without a husband, no children in a house we loved, a career that I still loved but felt disconnected from and everything was up for grabs. Nothing felt secure anymore and I felt untethered for the first time in my life.

I didn’t throw myself the biggest birthday bash in July. I allowed myself to celebrate with family and friends and accepted that I deserve to be celebrated. But most of all, I feel that being a 40-year-old widow has shifted my perspective. In many ways, I’m a softer person who has learned not to sweat the small things, as those things don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of life…I learned this the hard way. And in other ways, I’m more solid in who I am and what I want, not what is expected of me.

What do I want? I want to travel the world and experience the world. I want to find joy in my career again, which I feel that I am working towards each day. I want to have deep loving relationships with those in my life….and if I can’t, then I don’t have room for superficial relationships. I want to be confident in my independence and give myself permission to be the complex woman that I am. I want to date again, but not sure if I want to get married. I want to laugh as much as possible because this moment might be my last. I want people in my life to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I love them.

I want to live fully, deeply and vulnerably. What do you want?