Poor J. We haven’t been together for most of his birthdays. Last year, his Big 30, he was sweating under the hot Iraqi sun, digging up a weapons cache for weeks with Iraqi soldiers. I did send a "party-in-a-box" (brownie cake, pics of him as a kiddo, a video from his childhood, and cigars) to a fellow friend on his Team and they threw him a small surprise celebration before the day’s mission, complete with the Happy Birthday song and a hearty laugh at his video (I compiled bits and pieces ranging from his lipsync of Guns ‘N Roses to his prom date footage). It was makeshift, but the best I could do to make sure he felt loved and remembered on his birthday, given the circumstances.
He will turn 31 on Friday. This year, he’s stateside but he won’t be here on his birthday. Instead, he’ll be at his hiring conference, studying up for a grueling couple of days of interviews. Last night we had a small last-minute celebration with neighbors Scotty and Sarah. They gave him a new computer game, wrapped in foil (Scotty was tasked with gift-wrapping), and I gave him a nice watch, wrapped in leftover Christmas paper. Sarah made a beautiful cake (go Vols!) and we scrambled for the only candle we could find in the house (E. seemed happy to share). It was makeshift, but memorable. And he felt loved.
It was a fun night, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the Christmas after my sister’s death. It was just seven months after the accident, and I wasn’t surprised that my mom didn’t put up a tree or decorations, but I was a little disappointed when she said she was just going to hand me the gifts she’d bought – no special pause on Christmas for unwrapping anything. It made me sad that Christmas was going to be so pointedly depressing, but I understood. At the last minute on Christmas morning, I think she felt bad. I will never forget her finally emerging from her room after another morning of crying, balancing an armful of gifts wrapped in (now crumpled) brown paper bags held closed with rubberbands – the only wrapping she could find in the house. We had a good laugh about it. It was sad to be without Lora, but a fun moment between Mom and I. It was makeshift, but I felt loved.
Sometimes the best memories are last-minute, thrown-together, creative moments of genuine love.
For those of you who missed some cute pics last year, visit the video link here (sorry, it’s not the same one I sent him in Iraq).