My husband would have turned 62 this week had he not have died from a stroke. That stroke took a lot from me. It took his life, but took a lot from me, too. It robbed me of my plans and dreams.
I found myself baking a key lime pie (his favorite) and grilling him a birthday meal. Only a few of us still remembered his birthday. His own mother forgot (but she’s 87 with Parkinson’s so she’s earned the right, his death took a lot from her, too!). Our son (of course) remembered as did my husband’s sister, who sent a text. (She’s very frugal, she hates to use more than 30 of her 160 characters at a time, so it was a short remembrance.)
Like the other anniversaries that come and go each year, this one threatened me with darkness. Our son had just completed another life milestone and his Dad wasn’t here to share it, and that’s always painful. There’s an exquisite tenderness to a milestone or success our son has that I know my spouse would have been, in the words of his brother, “Obnoxiously proud of.” I can see his lopsided grin now.
The stroke that took him down gave me enough sorrow to last a lifetime. I don’t need or want to borrow any more from it or spend anymore time tripping around in the darkness of my own heart. So I’ve developed a flashlight system for times such as these.
When dark times or anniversaries (which are often the same thing) arrive, I shine my light around and find a good memory to polish up and display. This time, on his birthday, the happy cocktail was remembering the first key lime birthday pie I ever made him.
Our son was five. Birthday cakes are extremely important in the life passages of a five-year old so he had asked his Dad what kind of cake he wanted and he had said, “I don’t want a cake. I want a key lime pie!” And our son decided it was imperative that we honor this, because, well, he was five and choose what kind of birthday cake you want is a sign of maturity and power when you’re five.
So, I dug around and found a recipe in an old Southern cookbook and we went to the store in search of limes. (Of course, the cookbook neglected to mention that you could purchase key lime juice.) We bought 2 bags of the hardest little limes I’ve ever seen and commenced to rolling them around on a cutting board to soften them up. Then we sliced their hard shells in half them and “juiced” them.
He squirted me in the eyes first. #%@! that juice hurt! Then I squirted him, not meaning to. #%@! We both squirted Mr Kitty, our giant black and white cat-dog who was perched on a stool at the counter helping. When the juice hit his eyes, he knocked the 2nd bag onto the floor in his haste to escape the pain. Those dang limes went all over my kitchen. It took the two of us (well, one of us was only five) all afternoon to juice those #%@! key limes.
The effort was worth it, because you have never seen a prouder smile than the one our son wore when he carried that key-lime birthday pie to the patio, covered in an entire can of whipped cream “squirts!” and blazing candles. He stuck it up as high as he could to reach the table and proudly sang “Happy Birfdays to you, happy birfdays to you, happy birfdays dear Daddies, happy birfdays to you!” And then with a rush of words he added, “Me and Mommy squeezed them all for you and I put the squirts on all by myself!”
I can still see my husband’s six-foot-two frame reaching down and wrapping itself around that happy little boy and the birthday pie. Still see them grinning at each other as he let him help blow out the candles. And in my heart, I honor us in that moment. I honor the love we shared that birthed that five-year old, I honor the crazy woman who squeezed two bags of #%@! key limes to make that first, all-important birthday pie, I honor the son who took such unimaginable joy in putting on a whole can of whipped cream “squirts” and I honor the me that never planned to lose his Dad.
When the darkness comes to you, find a flashlight. Shine it into your heart until the joyful moments reveal themselves. Keep shining your light on that memory until it sparkles brightly enough to block out the dark. Remember the love and refuse to borrow again from the pain. You’ve suffered enough. When you honor the dreams you have lost and still choose to live in joy, you honor yourself and others.