I have, as my therapist puts it, a tendency to look at things in a reality-based way. Fact: Mike is gone. Fact: Shana died at 37. Fact: Nothing I can possibly do that I usually do will feel right, because it’s not. There is no right. Fact: This also means there might not be a wrong, either.
So I did things completely differently. I made choices based entirely on the fact that I was the only one making them. I took the kids on a weekend-long hiking trip, something Mike would have loved before the glioblastoma made something like 400 stairs and a bunch of slippery ravines an absolute impossibility for him. We were never able to take the kids hiking, so I did it. It was wonderful. The children had a blast.
My friend offered me a kitten. An honest-to-God kitten for my birthday. It’s name is Bob. We’re not sure if it will stay. Yes, this means I’m taking a kitten home. Mike would have been SO aggravated. But now it’s on me to keep things in line. And yes, I want a fucking kitten. It’s only been three months since Mike died and I am rapidly becoming a crazy cat lady.
The children woke me up with an absolutely perfect breakfast in bed. My platonic parenting partner (yes, there is a LOT more to this, and yes, I WILL write about it) made me dinner, something Mike never did for me once, for which I’m grateful. The children decorated my cake, another first. They wrote me coordinated notes that made me cry. All firsts.
And I got a tattoo.
It’s not my first tattoo, but it’s my first since Mike and I started dating. I had long talked about it, but it never came to be. I have several tattoos I’ve been planning for the better part of a decade, but it wasn’t a priority. What better time to buy yourself something a little frivolous than your first birthday as a widow, when you become the age your older sister was when she died?
I made the artist cry. It’s kind of what I do, I guess. I don’t remember exactly what I said to her. Something about Mike, I’m sure.
About how the first twelve years after his cancer diagnosis were incredible.
About how the last year and a half were hard.
About how he nearly died every other week for nine months.
About how my sister died. And my friend. And my other friend. And some colleagues. And my friend’s son.
About how if I had known, if somebody had told me the day Mike was diagnosed how long he would have, I would take it. I would always have taken it, whatever it was, I would have been grateful for it.
Probably something like that.
(Yes, I’ll explain all the symbolism of the tattoo another day. Yes, remind me, I’ve been incredibly scatter-brained. They call it “widow brain.” Isn’t that fun.)
And then I did something I always do for my birthday, or at least always have. I threw a party. Not a big party. Just for close, VACCINATED friends. And it was amazing. I hugged people. I joked. I ate. I drank. I fed people. There were PEOPLE. In my HOME.
Imagine going through what I’ve been through the last year, imagine losing your sister and your husband, living in a strange sort of medical isolation WITHIN the isolation of pandemic quarantine, imagine shuffling your kids to grief counseling and holding them while they cry, living in the big house, sleeping in the big bed, without the big man that belongs to them. All of this, ALL of this, and not being able to hug your friends.
I hugged them. I wanted to hug them so long I made it weird. I may have made it weird.
And it was amazing. It was wonderful. It was normal. And then there was this moment… this nothing moment. It was nothing. I was in one room with a few people, and there were more people in the next room… and I looked over. Not because I wanted to see what was going on, or listen in, or check to make sure everyone had a drink or a snack. But because whenever I had a party, Mike and I would drift between rooms. He in one, I in another, both of us joking and smiling and laughing and drinking and eating and reveling in the joy of seeing our friends. We would hardly see each other at our own parties until the end, when we would rehash our lovely times together as we cleaned up.
And I looked into the kitchen knowing he wasn’t going to be in there. That my dear friends were fine talking amongst themselves, without him hosting. And I was okay. I was okay. It was a lovely party. It was a wonderful time.
But that moment gutted me. I smiled at my friends and I ate another bite of whatever was in front of me and I moved onto the next thing.
While saying goodbye, a few friends said how glad they were to see that I was doing so well. I am. I am doing well. By pretty much any metric, I’m doing well given these circumstances.
I’m suffering acute widow’s brain, but there are worse things. I’m suffering horrible executive dysfunction, and I’m making weird impulsive decisions, but not BAD ones. Just… kind of impulsive. I’m laughing. I’m smiling. It’s not a lie. I AM happy.
And then when everyone went home, I scrolled through the last three years of Mike’s Facebook page, read the posts he wrote back when they always made sense, look at the way he interacted with our friends. The people who were here. The people I know must have missed him, must also have felt deep in their bones that he was supposed to be in the next room, his laugh bouncing back into their ears.
God, I miss him. But I always miss him. I just miss him and laugh and joke and cram cheesecake in my face. I can still multitask.
But I had a really good birthday.
Next up on my to-do list is to become older than my sister ever got. To keep getting stranger and also maybe even better. To get past this incredible fog in my head. To do things that would make Mike proud of me. That would make Shana proud of me. That would make Jac and Steven proud of me. That make me proud of myself.
But I have a feeling I’m going to keep looking into the next room for a long, long time, and hoping that somehow, I’ll see him in it.
You can read more about my ridiculously perfect marriage to the world’s most perfect, terminally ill husband here: How Love Lasts Forever When The Great Lakes Can’t
Read my most recent post here: On Grief and Vertigo
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