Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday. He was born 28 years ago. This was another one of those “firsts” that are awful. His first birthday in Heaven. This was my first birthday not getting to talk with my son. Even when he was deployed to the Middle East, we still found a way to communicate on this special day. Yesterday was a pretty busy day for us, so I didn’t have time to really digest the day. I left that for today, when I could take off my mask and cry into my dog’s furry face, because he never lets me be alone if I am unset. He’ll throw himself at a closed door to get to me. For Joe’s 27th birthday, he and Michelle were attending one of her best friend’s wedding here in Omaha. I got to see my son for his last birthday on earth. What a blessing. For those of you who have grown children who no longer live in your state, you know how getting together gets further and further apart. They have their own families, jobs, and lives to live. So what a blessing. I took him out for brunch. He had one of the biggest breakfast burritos I have ever seen and I think he managed to finish it…and regretted it. Joe was also present at my last birthday. He came up and surprised me in February. My birthday will forever be known to me as the last day I hugged my oldest son in person.
Yesterday, we had Joe remembered at Mass at 0800 at our church. His best friend, Zac,….well, his parents are like siblings to us. They are closer than friends. Another blessing is Joe’s friends, and their families became our extended family since we lived so far away from our relatives. Ed and Wanda came to Mass with us and sat with us during the service. We then changed and headed to Kansas City. That is a little over a 3 hour drive for us. We went to see Michelle, Joe’s wife. It was a hard day for her as well. We got to see their dogs, Moose and Jenna. I miss not seeing all three of them. We then took off to Olathe, Kansas, another 30 minutes away. We made our way around to all 8 of the OFD fire stations and dropped off a dozen cupcakes at each station. We met a lot of wonderful firefighters on our rounds and since this will be our last year in the region, we felt this was a wonderful way to celebrate Joe’s birthday. The cupcakes had red and yellow swirled frosting on top…to honor the firefighters and the KC Chiefs, who Joe loved to cheer for. Luckily, they managed a win yesterday! We ended the day at Joe’s best friend, Zac’s, house. Michelle was there along with other close friends of Joe’s. We had cupcakes and talked for an hour or so before leaving to head back home. It was a long day, but by the time we left the 2nd of 8 fire stations, I knew we had done the right thing to honor Joe’s birthday this year.
I don’t know what subsequent birthdays for Joe will look like, but I hope that we will do something that would have made Joe proud. To say that I was missing him yesterday is a very big understatement. I helped to make that man…I grew him inside my body, labored and gave birth to him through the night. I nursed him….I raised him. I travelled the world with him. I helped him when he struggled with dyslexia through elementary, middle and high school. I hugged him and talked to him when his heart was broken for the first time when he was 15. I took him to get his driver’s license and made sure he got his 2 minutes prior to Zac. This was a big deal at the time. I listened to him as he told me about meeting and pursuing Michelle as a freshman in college. I loved the man he had become and I couldn’t wait to see the things he would accomplish as a firefighter, as a soldier….as a husband. That man with the huge smile that I love so much because he is a part of me, had his earthly body reduced to ashes in an urn. That is really hard for me to wrap my brain and heart around. His spirit lives on, and I so hope he could feel the outpouring of love for him yesterday…today…and everyday, really. All that love that is poured so unconditionally towards a person just can’t be turned off when they die. That is where grief comes in. It is a place for all the love to go. I walk hand in hand with grief these days. Grief is forever attached to me, holding my hand. Somedays I feel like grief wins out and tackles me and knocks the wind right out of me. Other days, we walk through the day calmly….me still feeling grief’s presence, but I can still manage a smile perhaps. One thing I do know, I will never stop loving my Joe….or missing him. Happy 1st birthday in heaven, my beautiful boy. I miss you so very much.