Happy Birthday, Jon

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Christmas Day 1993(ish)

Today is Jon’s birthday. He would be 48 years old. This is the 14th year I’ve celebrated his birthday without him. On his birthday, I often spend time reflecting on the past year of my life and the lives of our girls and my relationship with each of them. I wonder if he would be proud of me or give me that look, the one that only he could give me, the one that I would understand clearly meant that he was disappointed and not happy.

People are constantly telling me how strong and brave I am. They tell me what an inspiration I am to them and what a bang up job I’ve done with my girls in the face of such a horrible tragedy. Well today, my friends, I will let you all behind the curtain. Just like the wizard in The Wizard Of Oz, things are not always as they seem in my life. When I first lost Jon, I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, but also fear. How was I going to get through my life without him? Could I be both mother and father to our girls? And while I’ve learned that I am capable of navigating life on my own, the truth is, I’m still scared. I feel weak and insecure. Every day. I worry about my daughters constantly. The thought of losing my own dad is beyond devastating to me. To see my brave girls live everyday without their father breaks my heart over and over again.

I know I have made mistakes in my life, some minor and some not so minor. But I want Jon to know that I tried. I still try. I do the best I know how to do. I have sacrificed my own happiness and desires for our girls. I put their needs, often, way ahead of my own. I do this because I’m a mom and it’s my job. But I also do it out of guilt. I did not cause the car accident. I didn’t cause the driver of the car that hit him to make an illegal turn. But I carry the guilt. My girls are growing up without a father and I feel tremendous guilt about it. Nothing brings me greater anxiety than the High School Father-Daughter Dance. Danny has been amazing, thrown into the deep end of the parenting pool without a life vest. He stepped up and did all the things that dads do with their daughters. And I’m so grateful that he did, and does. But, without any disrespect to him, he’s not their father. Events like the Father-Daughter Dance are just a bitter reminder, a slap in my face that Jon is not here. I feel guilty about this. The annual Sports Awards Dinner, their birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day… these are all days that I dread. These are days that my joy is tempered with sadness for all that Jon is missing but also for all my girls are missing out on. They will never experience the joy that I know Jon would feel with each high school and college acceptance, with each road test passed. They will never know what it’s like to make their father proud, to see the pride in his eyes when he looks at them. I feel guilty about this.

I’m human, and therefore, imperfect by definition. That is often reflected in the goings on in my house. Along with all the laughter and happiness, there is yelling and fighting and withdrawal. When this happens, I’m often looked to for solutions. “What should I do?” “Can you please talk to her for me?” This I feel no guilt for. This makes me angry. It’s exhausting to be the one who is expected to have all the answers. And though Jon often left a lot of the difficult parenting jobs to me (like explaining where babies come from), he is the one that I would turn to for help. I have been robbed of that. Seven Orlando, Florida high schoolers on “spring break” in Miami, took that from me. I’ll always be angry about that.

Every February 1st I will look back on the previous year, and all the years that have passed. I hope that Jon sees how hard I’ve tried. I hope my girls one day recognize how hard I tried. I hope they all understand that everything I did, or didn’t do, was done with love. I know I’ve fucked up a lot, but it has never been my intention to hurt anyone. And more importantly, I’d like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve taken the lessons my mistakes have taught me and integrated them into the person that they have caused me to become. As the saying goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.

Happy birthday in heaven, Jon. You are loved, cherished, and missed, not only today, but every day. xoxo

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The four of us at my brother’s wedding, August 2002

 

Another Year Gone By: Making My Birthday Special

Tomorrow is my birthday.  Since as far back as I can remember, I have always looked forward to my birthday with giddy anticipation.  There is something magical about the day you were born.  To you, the world did not exist until you got here and made it great.  When I was a teenager, my grandmother confided in me that, once you had children, your birthday was just another day that laundry had to be done, lunches had to be made, etc.  I remember looking at her, horrified, that she would say such a thing.  How could my birthday not be special???  Well, Grandma, you were right.  The older I’ve gotten, the less “special” my day has become.  I mean, I still get to spend it with my family, which is great.  But somehow it’s not the same.  No one will make me a special breakfast of pancakes with whipped cream and put a candle in it for me.  No one will spend weeks planning the perfect themed birthday party for me, complete with color coordinated desserts and decor in the venue.  
 
But the truth is, I’ve never had a birthday like that.  Yet my birthdays have always felt special to me because I’ve always had what I wanted and needed.  The same holds true this year – I have amazing children and family who are all well and spend time with me; though Jon is no longer my partner in life on earth, I have love and memories of him locked in my heart forever, never to be removed; I have found a loving partner in Danny, who puts up with me and all my quirks; I have a roof over my head, food in my refrigerator, clothes and shoes in my closet.  I don’t really want or need anything else.  
 
So I decided that this year, I wanted to do something a little different for my birthday.  What that was, however, was a little unclear.  Then I saw a post on Facebook about a young man named Zach Sobiech.  A media company (Soul Pancake) filmed a documentary about Zach and his life for their documentary series, “My Last Days.”   Zach had cancer and did not have much time left on earth.  You can see Soul Pancake’s video about Zach here. I was so moved by this 17 year old boy, who sadly lost his battle with cancer just 4 days ago.  He was quite inspirational, saying things like, “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.”  His older sister commented that Zach taught her that “things are okay when you believe in something greater than yourself in this world.”  But Zach said something that really touched me.  He said, “What makes you happy is seeing someone else smile because you put it there.  That’s what’s awesome about, like, living in this world is that you can help people.”  That really resonated with me.  After I stopped crying, I realized that this would be what I would for my birthday.  Instead of trying to decide on something that I wanted to receive for my birthday, I would decide on something that I would GIVE for my birthday, something that would help people.  Then I stumbled on a pin on Pinterest that was linked to a website called, “The Birthday Project.”  There was my answer.  Robyn, a young mom, started the site after a huge response to her blog post about how she celebrated her 38th birthday by completing 38 “Random Acts of Kindness” (RAOK).  So this year, I will be doing the same thing.  In celebration of the day I was born, 42 years (and one day) ago, I will complete 42 RAOK.  I have compiled a list, just as Robyn did, but am hopeful that opportunities will present themselves to me.  Some acts will be for complete strangers, while others will be for people who I know and love.  When I complete my 42 RAOK, I will post a complete list of all that I did and what the experience was like.  In the meantime, I strongly suggest that you watch Soul Pancake’s video about Zach (link above) and also watch his music video, “Clouds.”  I hope that both will change your life, as they have changed mine.