It’s Mike’s birthday today.
On this day, I will always “celebrate” him.
This is the fourth time I have celebrated Mike without him and it feels a bit less awful this year.
Still, there will never be a March 22nd that I don’t think tenderly of Mike.
On his birthday, I purposefully choose to remember the way he lived.
I celebrate the life and love we shared together.
And, really, I try to honor him everyday – not just on his birthday.
In the grief world people do all different types of things to mark birthdays. The way we choose to celebrate our person are varied. The only thing constant is that the celebrations are fitting for those who died. I like that. Not one type of birthday celebration will do because the people we are honoring are separate, unique individuals.
To honor their person, some people release balloons and the environmentalist scold them, others set off lanterns that are biodegradable. Some choose to cook their person’s favorite meal. Some people gather friends and family together. Some go to the cemetery. Some have cake. Some people spend the day alone – in bed. There really is no correct way to mark a birthday for someone who died, or for someone who is living for that matter. You simply do what feels right. And, this year with the COVID-19 pandemic I am not sure what the hell to do. Given the state of the world, Mike’s special day feels a bit less paramount. His birthday feels like it comes from of another time – a time when all the world was right – and, in a very real way it does.
For me, on significant days, I find that I am usually less out of sorts if I have a plan of some kind. In the past, when special days occur, I prefer to organize something. If I don’t plan something, then I’ve found that my grief leads me places I may not want to go. This year, I planned to be in Hawaii during Mike’s birthday; but COVID-19 travel advisories lead me to cancel my trip. The events that are unfolding around the world have reinforced what grief has already taught me – nothing is in our control. Nothing in life is constant.
The only thing certain in our lives is change. Mike’s death has taught me to accept that life is messy and unpredictable; and in this way I am somewhat mentally and emotionally ready to handle the current crisis. I am used to isolation and living with a sense of uncertainty because I have lived this way since the day he died. Sadly, all of this feels very familiar to me. *Sigh.
On birthdays past, I have written Mike a heartfelt letter. As his widow, I dutifully went to his grave and I tied a balloon to the shepherds hook I placed with love behind his headstone. Each year I have left Mike, a handwritten message on his birthday balloon. But, even though this gesture is love filled, it falls short. Way short. No part of me wants to stand at the grave of the man I love. I fucking rage against that and I always will. I want Mike home with me where he belongs. If he was alive Mike would be with me celebrating his birthday. We would gather family and friends together, but Mike is not here, so now I celebrate him alone. *Sigh.
In years past, I have stood at his grave wishing with all my heart that things were different. I have played him some of our favorite songs, and I toasted him with his favorite wine. And, then I stood crying. Many times, my tears have quietly watered the grass at his grave, but my tears do not bring him back to me. I can’t resurrect him with my love – I have tried.
During my birthday visit, I read Mike his birthday letter aloud. And, then, I numbly cried some more. My graveside visit is very precise and predictable. I know what to expect because I have completed this ritual for all our significant dates. I know how it feels by heart. And, yes it is sad, but I find it comforting in some ways too. For me, it feels right to honor Mike in this way. My rituals are sacred and intimate for us and they serve a purpose. They connect me to him even though he is physically gone from the Earth. I honor him by remembering him.
But, here is the thing, grief evolves and changes with time. Today, on Mike’s birthday I have not cried – yet. It is not because I don’t miss him – I do. I miss him to the depths of me, but the missing inside me is “softer” now. My tears are controlled and they flow within me without falling from my eyes. I never thought it would happen; but on this fourth birthday, I celebrate Mike without the heaviness of birthdays past. This is big stuff. It is progress.
Today, I’m not sure I will go to his grave. With the Coronavirus looming out there, going to his grave just doesn’t feel as necessary as it did in past years. I can celebrate Mike from wherever I am. I have always known this; but, in years past I’ve gone to the grave anyhow. This year I think I will stay home.
If it were not for the Coronavirus, I would be in Hawaii today and I would not have been able to perform my graveside birthday ritual. This year, even before the seriousness of COVID-19 was fully understood, I had alleviated myself of my “duties” as Mike’s widow. I had told myself that it was okay to not go to his grave on his special day. Instead, I had scheduled a sailboat cruise around the Napali Coast for today. I was going to be alone on a sailboat wishing Mike was alive and sharing his life with me. Instead, today, on his birthday, I am in my living room typing this, wishing Mike was alive and sharing his life with me.
Alas, I am “okay” because I know that Mike’s life was bigger than my ritual of reading him a birthday letter and toasting him with a glass of Malbec at his grave or from a sailboat on the Napali Coast for that matter. Mike’s love for me was deeper than me, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man I love. There is nothing I need to do to properly send him my love on his birthday. Mike knows that I love him. He can feel it because love knows not time or space. Love is what he and had together when he was alive and it is what we share still.
As I live without him, I honor Mike every day – in both big and small ways. Daily, I credit him for the profound impact he has on my life. We naturally “celebrate” our person, in their absence, every day of the year not just on their birthday. When Mike was alive, everyday felt like a celebration. Ordinary days were magical. Being Mike’s Girl was like “having all my birthdays in one day”. He was a good and kind man. Mike gave me the happiest days of my life and I will always treasure the time we shared.
Photo: March 22, 2016 – Mike’s last birthday
You loved life more than anyone I’ve ever known. And, oh, how life loved you right back. It was a privilege for me to watch you live with so much unbridled enthusiasm. Your love of life was completely contagious. I come by it honestly,I have caught what you had. And, I am a better woman for it.
You were spontaneous. Just like a traditional game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, when people were with you, they knew they were going to laugh; but the laughter was richer than they remembered it could be. With you, it was a hearty, throw your head back, mouth wide open, eyes crinkling belly kind of laughter. It was magic. And, I miss it. I miss your notable laugh Mike.
Just like a good chocolate cake, your personality was rich and dense.
People wanted seconds of what you were serving.
And, that was fine by you because you hated cake.
To know you was to love you.
You were as genuine as they come.
A true gentleman.
A salt of the earth type person.
Your heart was sweet like the frosted icing on a cake.
And, your voice, it would fill the room and warm the hearts of everyone you knew.
Your voice was strong and bold.
And, with me, it was tender and soft.
If I close my eyes, I remember the sound of your loving words and I feel adored again.
At the house, your words wildly echoed off the walls with the same excitement and furry that children have while they play musical chairs. I miss you excitedly telling me about your day. I have replayed your voice in my head now for 3.4 years. Honey, I know your words by heart.
For you, an ordinary conversation was so engaging that you would leaned in to every word. You would tell a story and people gathered round you just like children crowd around a candy dish. People were naturally drawn to you. Mike, you could hold a table like no one else I know. It was a thing of beauty to watch people’s eyes light up from your animated words.
If others sat at our kitchen table, it was guaranteed that a smile would spread across their faces as you drew them closer. You were full of whimsy and joy. And, you were spontaneous just like a jack-in-the-box toy. I never knew what would fly out of your mouth. And, I loved this about you. Mikey, you were so funny; and it was most endearing because you didn’t even know it.
I miss the joy you brought to an ordinary day. And, I miss sharing my life with you. But, finally, after all these years, I accept that I will miss your presence in my life – for the rest of my life. As you always said, “it is what it is”.
It was an honor to love you Mike Duncan.
And, it was a privilege to be be loved by you.
So, today, on March 22nd I will celebrate you and all that you were.
Happy Birthday Honey and thank you for sharing part of your life with me.
Loving you and being loved by you was “like having all my Birthdays in One day”,