This weekend, Matt would be turning (stops to count on fingers…) 47.
He is not 47. He is, always and forever, 3 months from his 40th birthday.
That phrase – “three months from his 40th birthday” – is one I’ve used over and over in talks and workshops. There’s a cadence to it, a rhythm, that is so familiar to me, I say it the same way every time.
Matt was not big on birthdays. He didn’t like to be the center of attention. I, however, love birthdays. I love other peoples’ birthdays especially. I kept a file on my computer back then titled, “MP’s presents.” It was an ongoing document of things he’d said, things I’d noticed him looking at or expressing interest in. It had gift ideas based on who I knew him to be, and who I saw him becoming. I still have that list. Three computers and seven years later, it’s still there.
I never got to give him the presents I had planned for his 40th birthday.
Each year, or at least most years, I try to do something new or unusual in the time between his birthday and mine (we were born 350 days apart). That first year, I went on a 15 mile hike, summiting 3 peaks in one day. This, after not having really eaten since he died. It was intense and brutal. The following year, I made him a cake and brought it to the new farm where I had just started to work. It was awkward and gentle and sweet.
Each year, one challenge. Sometimes huge, sometimes quiet. It wasn’t for him, it was for me.
I needed to do something, do anything, to mark the season of our entrance to this world, and his exit from it. The finality of it. His life extended to 39 years and 9 months. Three months from his 40th birthday. The concrete reality. He was here. He is not here now.
I’d like to think my heading to a four day dance festival this weekend is a gift from me to him, but really – it’s a gift from me to me. So much of what I love in my life now wouldn’t have happened in life Before. It’s not better, not worse, it just is. I am not the same person he loved. Living through his death changed me, just as his birth changed the world 47 years ago – in ways both big and small.
I no longer do something intentionally specific for his birthday. He is stitched into me in more subtle ways. But while I’m at the festival, there will be at least one moment where I catch my breath, remember what is lost, and who is gone. There will be at least one moment where I close my eyes, still standing on the dance floor, and offer a quiet and subtle nod to my love: you were here. I loved you. I love you still.
Happy birthday, Matthew P. You were here, and you were loved.
How do you mark birthdays – yours and theirs – in the years since their death? Leave a comment and let us know.