It’s Craig’s birthday today. Happy birthday to you Craig, I hope heaven is serving you up a feast and a few frothies to celebrate!
Craig’s birthday is a day tinged with sadness and celebration, these kind of ‘days’ can be a little bit of a minefield.
Once a person dies, not only are you enduring the day to day challenges of normal life, but special occasions are something to navigate also. This could be a wedding anniversary, their birthday, your birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day – anything that magnifies your loss due to a sense of occasion.
Special occasions can be weird and in a way I feel quite ‘lucky’ that all my occasions all seem to hit in one big blow. September I stare down Father’s Day, Craig’s death and my own birthday all rolled into a neat 7-10 day period. I say neat, but for those watching on it’s probably anything but – more like a big messy wine and walking induced haze. In December/January I then have Christmas, my wedding anniversary and Craig’s birthday in a one month period. It seems manageable – almost like I get a little reprieve from now until sneaky September then rears its ugly head again.
So what do these days mean and how on earth do I handle them?
In all honesty, I try to celebrate.
Personally, for me, it’s an opportunity to take some space to actually sit down, take a day off and reflect. I am grieving all the bloody time, but due to the nature of life, I honestly don’t get a lot of time these days to just reflect on my old life and Craig. I am so busy with work, parenting, keeping my head above water and keeping myself sane, I don’t have a lot of time to just think.
Which may seem bizarre, because I’m sure most people think I must spend my evenings bereft and lonely. However I don’t. My body and brain are normally so fried by the end of the day, about all I can take in is the latest episode of Love Island UK.
So when these occasions roll around, it’s a big mixture of feelings. So many kinds of feelings. But I feel the least Craig deserves is a celebration of his life, no matter how big or small.
So I try and do a few things to help me with this.
The first thing I do when an occasion rolls around is make sure I diarise some time to just reflect. That might be for an hour or two or it might mean blocking out the entire day.
I might do this by going for a walk, heading to the coast or sitting at home. When I reflect it is bittersweet for sure. Craig was a great guy – a great, great guy. Thinking about him, and our relationship is sad, but it also makes me smile. I was lucky to have the time with him that I did. Really lucky. Sometimes, life deals you a bad hand. Alright it was slightly bigger than a bad hand, but you get my point. So I’ve made a choice to mark these occasions with a sense of celebration where I can.
I also try and take the pressure off myself.
Sometimes I feel like I nail the occasion – think me feasting on oysters, prawns, hiking in the wilderness with not a care in the world! But I’ve also had times when I feel I haven’t nailed it. Think me heading out for a coastal walk, only to find myself walking along the most boring dirt track with not a view in site, to then enjoy a shit lunch at a shit cafe. Initially disappointed, I’ve just learned that these things happen, and not to take the Breamlea to Torquay walk again.
I’ve also learned that sometimes you stuff it up.
Like really stuff it up. And that’s ok. Last year I stuffed up Christmas. I got a little too festive with alcohol on Christmas Eve, woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, turned into a mute with a bad attitude at Christmas lunch, napped for 3 hours and then demanded to be driven home so I could get the hell away and be on my own. I stuffed up. You might think that’s just part and parcel of celebrating Christmas when you’ve lost someone. However I refuse to believe that. So I owned my stuff up, didn’t get too down about it, and thought, I’ll try again next year. And I did, and Christmas was an amazing celebration.
I take every occasion as it comes.
Not every occasion is perfect. Not every occasion is hard. Not every occasion is celebrated with a huge smile. Take it as it comes and lean on the support around you if you need it. You might have a good Christmas, you might have a bad wedding anniversary and a semi ok birthday. Grief is a tricky bastard so you never quite know what to expect. See your psychologist in the lead up if it helps. Lean on the people around you. Or ace it and feel like you’ve made a small step ahead, even if you then go 50 steps back.
I’m not afraid to have fun.
If I feel up to it, I don’t feel guilty for marking an occasion with things that make me feel good. I eat the dozen oysters we probably would have shared, I drink the good wine, I take myself to hike. I know the last thing Craig would want is for me to mope around all day, he’d rather me be out there living life in the best way I can, afterall he no longer has the opportunity to.
For those of you watching on as someone is enduring a hard time or about to mark these occasions, here’s some tips for you.
- Acknowledge it if you can. It’s truly appreciated, even if they don’t respond. It’s a little way of reminding that person you care deeply about them, and that you haven’t forgotten their loss or loved one.
- Understand that person is enduring the hard yards every single day. Not just the special occasions.
- Should you speak with them, just be there to listen. This is not a time to impart your own feelings onto them.
- If you can offer a helping hand, it goes a long way. Offer to have their child for an hour or two, ask them if they want company, send them your loving thoughts. They may refuse, and that’s ok, but it’s the thought that absolutely counts.
So how has today gone? I’ve been both happy and a little melancholic, and I’m A-OK with that. We started the day with chocolate pancakes, I headed on a long walk to reflect, we did the movies and made a pretty bad cake. At the end of the day I feel grateful. Grateful to have had Craig in my life, and exceptionally grateful to simply be alive.
Interested in Jo’s journey? Jo opens up about moving forward in her post Out of date - dating and the widow.