Today is my late husband RJ’s birthday. He would have been thirty three. I reminisced this morning, looking at pictures of the last birthday we got to celebrate with him.
On Ryan’s thirty first birthday, and we had planned a weekend trip at our favorite local camping spot. Camping was our favorite thing to do as a family, and it was our first time taking out a newly purchased pop up trailer. We were so excited to try it out. When we made it to the top of the mountain, we had a picture perfect dinner by a campfire. I had baked Ryan’s favorite cake a couple of hours earlier, and we sang happy birthday and he blew out his candles, all the while surrounded by the majesty of nature on our favorite little mountain. Every thing was right in the world, the rain that soon came pouring down didn’t even bother us. We prepared the kids for bed, and turned on the furnace as the high altitude of the mountain turned our rain showers into sleet, and eventually snow. It was cold, but we would be fine in our cozy little pop up camper.
And then the night took a turn for the worse. It was almost dark when our furnace went out. Ryan pulled all of his tools out, and tried in vain to reignite the flame that was so necessary to keep us warm on such a cold night. After an hour, he realized that his efforts were futile and he finally gave up, frustrated and unsure of how to fix our problem. He became impatient with our whining tired children, and I reacted angrily angrily at him for being so short tempered. And then everything fell apart. What had started as a lovely family outing, soon turned into a unfortunate mix of hurt feelings and pride, unkind words, and a trailer that was furiously packed up and hauled back down the mountain in the middle of the night.
That was his last birthday.
This morning, as I thought about that day, I agonized over the things I would change if I could. I wish I would have been more patient. I wish I would have been kind. I wish I had tried to diffuse the already stressful situation by laughing it off and packing up without complaint. But I didn’t. I was a complete brat on my husband’s last birthday.
As I rehashed the events of that day, I tortured myself with guilt and regret. When I really started to spiral downward, I had to intentionally stop myself.
Of course I would give anything to see my kids help him blow out his candles today. I haven’t even been able to bring myself to make the cake that he loved so much since that day. If I had a chance to relive his last birthday, with everything I know now, I would make him at least one hundred chocolate cakes, and would happily pack up camp with him during a blizzard, in the eye of a hurricane, on top of a volcano. But how could I have known?
The fact is that I’m human, and I would never have guessed that today my kids would be sending notes attached to helium balloons up to their dad in heaven. I never would have thought in a million years, that we would be celebrating his special day without him.
I just didn’t know.
But now I do. Now, I can try a little harder to be more patient with my family. I can remember the happy times, and try to learn from the less than ideal ones.Though I am far from perfect, I can see now just how fragile life is.
I am thankful for the way grief that has shaped me into a person who loves more deliberately. And I am thankful for my RJ. Loving him was beautiful, and losing him has painfully changed me for the better.
Love you forever my RJ.