So, yesterday would have been my late husband’s 62nd birthday. Isn’t that strange? Also strange: Chris died at 55, and here I am, facing that double-nickel number in September. I remember the surrealism of turning 32 four years after my sister Lucy died at 31. It felt like a breach in the space-time continuum: This things are not supposed to happen. We are not supposed to be older than our older sisters. We are not supposed to lose the people we love, bury them, mourn them and miss them, yet keep on living and growing and laughing and loving and sprouting fresh-baked wrinkles on our faces, all while our absent dear ones remain fixed at the age they died.
Except we are. Of course we are. How else are life and death supposed to function? When I had my first colonoscopy at age 50, I worked hard to celebrate it as a marker Lucy never reached. As positive spin goes, this was a stretch, I know. But I’m here. She’s not. And when I live with gratitude, I feel hers, too.
Last night, as I often do these days, I made music with friends: joyous, upbeat, swinging, infectious gypsy jazz. I’d spent the day engaged in the tasks at hand, working, chatting, laughing, always with Chris on my mind. I kept snatching glimpses at his photos, marveling at his handsome and impish mug, trying to picture him six years on. I kept wondering what he might think of me now — a little older, my hair a little whiter and longer, my language a little more profane. I kept thanking God and Chris for our 20 years of marriage and the three astonishing children we brought into the world. I kept dwelling on all of his gifts — his constancy, decency, intellect, compassion, his deep and unswerving well of love. And I kept thinking, well, what if he’d never been born? Impossible to imagine.
And then, sawing away at my violin with my buddies, I pictured him there. Listen to this awesome music, I told him. Look at these awesome friends of mine. I’d become obsessed with jazz after his suicide. Took up lessons. Started playing gypsy swing two years ago. All of this happened without him. None of it might have happened had he not died, a head-exploding conundrum I won’t ever unpack, but it’s true. And as I made music last night, the joy of the moment and the memory of Chris twined into one continuous, light-dark, life-death, love-loss, yin-yang cause for gratitude. I was living, and he was gone, but that didn’t make the present any less miraculous. To the contrary: more so.
At the end of the night, as I loosened my bow and packed up my fiddle, I felt at peace. And I thought: Life is huge. Happy Birthday, honey.