Last week was October 19th. To many of you that was just another Autumn day, heralding the weekend. For me it was my late husband’s birthday, the fifth one since he left this world. I spent the day depressed and much of it in solitude, quite unfortunately.
It’s been long enough now, since he died over four years ago, that I’m beginning to be forgotten on the hard days. People have not forgotten Chris; I don’t believe that for a second. But I spent much of his birthday lying around my house like a deflated balloon and hardly anyone knew. I didn’t publicize it, that’s true. I am eternally grateful to the souls who anticipated my grief on that day and sent me a text or a Facebook message. Those simple acts go a long way.
A few days before Chris’ (would-have-been 33rd) birthday I mentioned it to my boyfriend Don. I told him I was having trouble with the thought of it and asked him to come over that evening. I felt scared to ask him to be there for me in a time of grief for my dead best friend... but also, he’s my current best friend and “my person”. I began sobbing and crying. Don just held me and reassured me that yes, of course, if I needed him to come over, he would come over.
When school let out on the 19th, I got Abbi off the school bus. We came home. I sat with her in one of our living room chairs and asked, “Is there anything you want to know about Daddy? Like his favorite show, or what he did for fun, or—“
“Why did he die?” she cut me off.
Taken slightly aback, and not sure whether we were getting at philosophical questions or simple logistics, I asked, “What?”
She repeated herself, “Why did he die?”
As I snuggled my five-year-old daughter close, I made a decision. I could not give a good philosophical answer so I would stick to logistics, although this would not be new information. I went through simple details of the wreck with her again: Daddy was in a friend’s van, a tire popped, and the van hit a big truck. Daddy was hurt very badly and even though the doctors and nurses tried very hard to help him they couldn’t, so he died. God took him to heaven and gave him a new body there, a perfect healthy body.
At this point she had burrowed her face down in the crook of my arm. I could feel her heartache. “But you know what?” I asked her. She kind of shook her head in response. “Abigale means ‘father’s joy’ and that’s exactly what you were. He loved his baby girl so much! He loved being a daddy! Every day when he got home from work the first thing he wanted to do was see his ‘bitty baby’ and play with you.” I could hear her sniffles. These were tears... and I felt they were of a healing sort. “You know what else?” I asked.
“What?” she replied.
“Mommy worked at night at the hospital, so when I was gone, Daddy did everything for you. He fed you bottles and changed all your diapers. He was such a good daddy.”
I continued going on about their love affair. Sixteen months of extrauterine life they shared, stuck together like peanut butter and jelly. “You loved him so much, Abbi. You didn’t have many words back then because you were so little. You could say a few things though. You said ‘Dada’ more than ‘Mama’ and you told him ‘Love you’ more times than you had told me while he was alive. He was so proud of that, you saying you loved him. It made him so happy.” We cuddled a while longer and then she ran off to play.
Later that night we went to dinner for Chris’ birthday: my daughters, my mom, and my boyfriend. It was quiet and simple, no fanfare. It was a chilly day and it was already dark out so we didn’t make it by the grave. It’s okay, though, because the body doesn’t house a soul after death anyhow. Plus, to be honest, I dislike balloon releases (as have been done in the past) because heaven isn’t a destination in the sky and because of pollution. Telling Abbi about her relationship with her dad was the best way I could have honored his memory that day.
Chris is the boy I met at 14, dated at 17, the man I married at 20, made a father 27, and whose body we buried at 28. The love will always remain and the grief, a byproduct of the separation, will come and go as it pleases. On his birthday, I acutely miss my best friend Chris, and I make no apologies.
After dinner, the kids, Don, and I came back to the house. He helped me get them ready for bed, like he does any time he’s here. He’s a wonderful man and a great male role model (being a father himself). He loves my daughters immensely and it shows.
Once the children were in bed, we sat and talked. And you know what? Having the living man I love next to me took most of the sting out of a rough day. His arm around my shoulder, a listening ear, and total confidence of his love for me were precisely what I needed.