I woke up with a jump-start. I showered, shaved, and slathered on my favorite smelling lotion. Despite day 41 of sheltering in place, I was determined. It was my birthday. I LOVE birthdays! I was going to make this day feel as pre-pandemic as possible – and the next day. My newly minted sixteen-year-old and I share back-to-back birthdays. For her milestone day with no driving to be done – I was on a magic making mission.
The day started with a sweet delivery from my dear friend – literally a box full of treats from the best bakery in town. When I picked up my girls from their dad’s house they were infused with the enthusiasm that birthdays were about to bring. My mom, my sister and my best friend all individually called to serenade me with the birthday song.
My best intentions were soon laid bare. My sister told me my niece wanted to Facetime while I opened my birthday gifts. Oh. There are no gifts I replied. This did not make me sad as I understood that delayed deliveries were common and my feeling loved currency runs more in words than in physical gifts.
But a curious thing happened to me in that moment. I was instantaneously transported to an old wound from 16 years prior. It was one of those small injuries to the heart that occur for people on their path to divorce. It was another birthday I did not receive a gift.
I labored all day with my firstborn daughter on my 29th birthday. She was arriving early and I secretly crossed my fingers that she would wait until after the stroke of midnight so we could each have our separate birthdays. I went to work that day, contractions and all, to ensure order for my clients during my maternity leave.
When I arrived home that evening there was no birthday cake and not a single pretty package waiting to be opened. My spouse dryly said that he gave me the baby and that should be the best gift of all time. True. And I was so hurt. 16 years later that sting was just as sharp.
In our post-divorce lives we never know when these memories will sneak up and tap us on the shoulder. We never know when abruptly we will need to go lay down and take a nap to shake off our sadness. Yes, even 9 years after my divorce, the grief comes and goes.
A little-known fact about many of us divorcees: we tend to beat ourselves up long after the decree is signed for failing at marriage. We worry about any invisible damage done to our kids, about whether our hearts will ever love and be loved again, and even years later if we made the right decision.
In these moments, when a tiny memory of a relationship turning rocky surfaces, it brings both grief and a gift. It brings hurt, but after we rise from our thoughts (or our nap) we are reminded of the hardness we have overcome. We are reminded of the why our journey was formed. And we see yet clearer still the renewed versions of ourselves that have been born.
I rose from my bed with the afternoon sun shining down on me and went to the kitchen. My youngest was baking me a birthday cake and my oldest had laid out a handmade card full of all the words I needed to feel so very loved. I see the gift of my grit, the gifts of my girls, and my birthday spirit is renewed.