Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear brother! Happy Bir…
Oh wait. Am I supposed to be celebrating your birthday? Do the angels throw parties in heaven like we do on Earth? Is anyone up there worrying whether the cake is white or chocolate? Or if the frosting is buttercream or whipped?
Hmmm… the multitude of questions one ponders when there are no answers! I think if I had read this blog ten years ago, I might think the writer was on the verge of lunacy. But sitting here, fingers pecking out my random thoughts, I wonder how many others “get” what I’m expressing.
Michael was killed seven years ago, just after his 33rd birthday. Because I’m the oldest kid in the family, that means I was lucky enough to celebrate all 33 previous birthdays with him in some fashion. But then came number 34. And he wasn’t here. And I couldn’t fathom celebrating anything, much less his birth. How can one find joy in a birth when all thoughts cyclone around the death? Michael didn’t get cake that year. Instead, he received yet another miniature flag, stabbed into the ground beneath his name.
Each year thereafter, I’d make the trek to the cemetery, just me, my thoughts, and my broken heart. With each visit, I’d see evidence that someone had been there before me, but I was always thankful that no one was there when I arrived. It was as though it was a private party, a sacred moment. Party of one, please. Or is it two?
Indiana winters can be brutally cold or sunny and mild, depending on the day. Some years, I’d bundle up and stomp my way through the snow drifts. Other years, I’d plop down in the grass, splitting blades of grass with my thumbnail as I carried on a conversation in my head. Each time, I’d circle the tall headstone, trace the etchings, catch glimpses of myself in the reflection of the stone. And cry when I read his name.
But this year was number 40. The big 4-0. And I forgot to go to the cemetery. I was too busy commemorating his life. I spent time with my family, I prayed for his comrades, I counted my blessings, and I donated 40 bucks to a charity I thought he would support. And then I felt guilty for not making the trek to his grave.
That, my friends, is the cycle of grief for me. Questions with no answers, birthdays with no parties, tears that slip out unannounced, guilt that leads back to questions. This journey I’m on… this journey we are on… can be a lonely road. There are always more questions than answers, more tears than laughter, more confusion than clarity. But there is always the haven of TAPS, where we can express that and maybe not feel so lost, if even for a moment.
I wish with all my heart that I had just celebrated my brother’s 40th, complete with all the tormenting and hilarity that such a milestone brings, but that was not to be. I will never get to make fun of his thinning hair, or his newly-acquired bifocals or his laments about aching joints and other assorted ailments of age that I’ll hopefully experience myself one day. But I can bake a cake, and I can spend time with his kids, and I can give a gift of time or money to others. And I can still celebrate.
Happy birthday, Michael!