For fifteen years we celebrated our birthdays together.
Sometimes they were long-distance celebrations. Cards and phone calls. Sometimes a room full of people sang “Happy Birthday” to the two of us. Those years, we shared cakes and posed together for pictures. She entertained my friends with elaborate (and messy) party games.
She was our aunt, but we called her Sissie. I used to think the reason our relationship with her was special was because she had no children of her own. I’m sure now that it was really she who was special. I think she would have loved us that much even if she’d had a house full of her own kids.
Three days after my fifteenth birthday, she died on a long, straight stretch of country road. Twenty years ago.
Here’s the thing about losing someone you love (something I imagine most of you already know): it doesn’t hurt less, just differently. The pain doesn’t go away, but you do become accustomed to it.
Also, this: it grows.
Loss is not a one-time event. It reveals itself over time, becoming bigger and more unwieldy with each missed birthday, wedding, graduation, child’s birth.
I still enjoyed my birthdays after 15, it’s just that they felt lopsided. Too much me. Someone else always missing.
Thirteen unshared birthdays.
Until I turned 29. That day my son was born.
This Saturday, we share our sixth birthday together.
I will celebrate my 35th birthday with a gluten-free, dairy-free cake. It will be decorated with Hot Wheels. I love butter, and I do not care for Hot Wheels, but I’m finally old enough to wonder whether Sissie really wanted to celebrate her birthday by orchestrating games of Chubby Bunny for twenty-two six-year-olds.
It’s not the wanting that matters (because, if I’m honest, I want a cake full of butter and wheat, I want a party attended by adults, and I want another shared birthday with Sissie). It’s the love that matters most. In this case, love looks like celebrating 35 with a Hot Wheels cake. Love means no time alone with my husband, just a date to see the latest Pixar movie with a six-year-old boy.
Small things that give me just a glimpse of a much, much bigger love.
Because love is a God who will one day restore all that has been lost (no matter how big that loss has become).
And love is a God who is always, every day, giving new gifts.