When you have lost someone you love, I think it’s impossible to move through the world the same as you did before you lost them.
Everything takes on new meaning – the feather that you see by your foot, the rainbow that bursts from the clouds in the sky. The sparkling dew on a flower, the bird that watches you. It all pulls together in relevance and connection. The world seems at once so much smaller and laced together, and so much larger in depth and love.
Birthdays also hold a different significance.
While they once were an emblem of the number of years I’ve been on this earthly plane, a reflection of my time under the sun, care of my body (number of wrinkles) and perhaps a token of beauty or wisdom gained., they are now something else. Birthdays for me now are a sharp, poignant reminder that my brother is not with me.
The pain in this is woven of many threads.
There is the thread of missing him so keenly, remembering all of the super fun birthdays we spent together growing up. Remembering how we would eagerly, joyfully, save for each other’s birthday and think long and carefully about what we would give one another.
There is remembering how on my 42nd birthday when I was sad that my husband had (for the 7th year running) not given me anything (even a plucked wild flower), my brother Dana drove two hours to come over and give me a strawberry plant. I was so grateful, I thought my heart would burst.
There is the remembering of the long conversations that Dana and I had throughout our time together. Conversations where we talked and talked about all the things we were curious about – “what’s it going to be like when we get old?” “I wonder how it feel to be old?” “I wonder if wrinkly skin feels saggy?” “I wonder if when we are old, we’ll think other old people are hot?”
As I grew older, I grew nervous about the signs of aging and did not look forward to getting older. Dana had no such compunctions as he leapt joyfully and whole-heartedly with a gleeful, child-like abandon into each new year. He loved his birthday! He loved getting older! Life was all about fun, and he was really enjoying his!
I loved that about him.
Now my own birthday is coming up again and I’m turning 46. I’m two years older than Dana ever was. Each transition past what my big brother would be fills me with deep, overwhelming grief. In turn, it stupefies, renders me with the keen pain of loss.
Yes, he is with God (awesome for him!), but no, I can’t see him and I can’t hang out and talk with him and dammit! I MISS HIM.
My birthday is a now a reminder of his absence from this world. And it’s a reminder of the precious time I have. It’s a celebration of the joy of life, my life, and all that I have to be grateful for (which is a lot).
My body is getting older and I can feel it.
But now this only means that I’ve been living and that’s a good thing. It means I’ve learned to nurture my body instead of hurt it. I’ve turned inward to find solace and peace; not outward.
All of this, I know Dana has helped me with, with his countless gifts of rainbows, feathers, butterflies, nudges at 5 o’clock in the morning to do something. Through the waft of an idea, the whispers of inspiration, I know his spirit is here.
I keep thinking of the book, Proof of Heaven. It helped me so much immediately after Dana left, and it helps me still.
In it, there is a beautiful blue butterfly. Eben’s sister rides the butterfly with him in heaven, seeing all there is from the vantage point of this huge, glorious creature.
I think of this now with my brother, that Dana is there with is own blue butterfly, and I hope – I really hope – that he’s saving some space for me.
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.