I don’t think anyone ever imagines many of the “what ifs” that become reality when someone dies well before their time. There are rarely rules or pre-established guidelines for people like us to follow. And, even if there were, I still think it would be impossible for anyone to outline every single scenario young widows encounter.
Over the past eight months, I have encountered many situations where I’ve had to simply make an educated guess as to the best approach. This week, it was a simple question with a non-existent answer: What do you do on your spouse’s birthday after they’re gone?
Birthdays Should be Happy Days
Birthdays are almost always fun celebrations, even for adults. It’s the one holiday we each get that revolves entirely around our existence, and it’s meant to be a joyous occasion.
However, once a person dies, birthdays seem to transform into the opposite—they become a day filled with sadness and dread. It’s no longer a day to celebrate a person’s life, but instead a painful reminder that the person we love is gone.
This conundrum about birthdays has plagued me for nearly a month now as the dread set in about my partner Emily’s upcoming special day. Emily loved birthdays, including her own. But how could I be happy about what would be the 27th birthday of my favorite person in the world when she wouldn’t be here to blow out candles and open gifts?
Birthdays should be happy days, but can anything really be “happy” in the midst of grief?
Finding Ways to Bring Sunlight Into a Cloudy Day
The closer the calendar crept to Emily’s birthday, the more I started to dread the entire month of July. So, I did what any sensible person in my position would do: I talked to my therapist about it.
My therapist said that the best things I can do on this day are not to be alone and find ways to bring a bit of sunshine to what will likely be a very dark day. She recommended I think of activities that Emily would like or simple things to do that may make me feel closer to her and do them.
It sounds so simple, right?
Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined in my head.
I sat down with the kids, and together, we planned what we called “Emily Day.” It consisted of a few activities she enjoyed, the food she loved, and quality time as a family. We also had “Dr. Bear” (a Build-A-Bear Emily made during one of our first dates) join us for the day because the kids both said it made it feel more like Emily was with us.
I’m not going to lie: It was still difficult, and I definitely cried more than once. But I do think our plan made the day brighter and easier to cope with than it would have been had I just avoided it until the eleventh hour.
Birthdays Can be a Combination of Pain and Happiness
What I learned this weekend is birthdays don’t have to just be joyous celebrations, nor do they have to be painful, depressing days. They can be a bit of both, just like most other days in life.
I think this little unexpected life lesson was important for me as I continue along my grief journey. I need to see that, despite the heartache I feel every single day, I can make the most of every moment and continue living for my Emily. I know that’s what she’d want, and there’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more in life than to make the person I love happy.