For 21 days the Advent calendar hanging on the wall has taunted me. Those first few weeks I would see the pocket for 21 looming at the bottom yet it was easy to ignore. It was so far away. But this morning I looked at the calendar and the star was in the 21 pocket. It had arrived. The day I hoped to ignore yet felt obligated to recognize was here once again. It was Darrell's birthday.
It's funny that every year a different birthday of Darrell's has special significance. One year it was the birthday I had a surprise birthday dinner for him while we lived in Tulsa. Last year it was the birthday I surprised him with a weekend away. But this year, for some reason this year, our first year to celebrate his birthday is haunting me. It was his 40th birthday and I took him to a restaurant known for its seafood, his favorite. The candlelight and soft music are still there in my memories, but most of all I remember his happiness. His utter happiness to be celebrating his birthday with me.
After those memories washed over me, nearly choking me in Costco parking lot of all places, I wondered why I remember the first now. Four years since I celebrated his last birthday with him, why suddenly the first? I wonder if I'm ready to really let him go.
I can remember so many firsts but I struggle with the lasts. For the past hour I've tried to remember his last birthday for the life of me, I can't. I can't remember the last time we held hands. Or the last time we made love. I can't remember what I made him for dinner the night before his accident. Or the last time he said "I love you." Our last kiss is but a vague memory, a quick kiss as he left the house to go fly his plane. We remember the firsts, forever etched in our brains, but the lasts are locked away in the fog of our memories.
I'm no longer the Denise Swank who was married to Darrell. I've changed, evolved, adapted to my new life sometimes drug through it all kicking, screaming and wailing. I've not always done it gracefully, but I've done it my way. I sometimes wonder if Darrell would recognize the person I am today. Would he love the new me? I'm not so sure he would. But that's okay (and this is what makes me realize I'm ready to let go) because I can't change a thing. And I'll go so far as to say I wouldn't change a thing. The way I behaved, the person I've become was created through the birth of fire. Literally. I defy anyone to do that gracefully.
Over the next few weeks, I plan on doing some posts covering my journey through the first six months of grief. Some of those times, I won't look very pretty. But the cold hard fact is that grief is ugly business. It's high time someone finally admitted it.