Tomorrow, I turn 41.
I should be celebrating. I love my birthday – it’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love how everyone is super nice and wishes me “happy birthday” all day and how I hear from new and old friends alike. I love how my kids are on their best behavior and I love the cards they make me every year.
But I can’t quite get excited about it because I’m turning 41. It’s the birthday Shawn never got to celebrate.
It’s not just that I’m going to be older than him, for the first time ever. It’s not just that I’m now “in my 40s” – a decade he only briefly got to experience. It’s not just that starting tomorrow, every single birthday of mine will be one that Shawn never got to experience.
It also means that I’m turning towards the next part of my time here on the planet. I’m looking at 41, but I’m also looking at the rest of my life.
And I feel a bit stuck. Not about my current life. It might not be perfect, but I feel okay about the day-to-day, mostly. No, I feel stuck when I try to imagine the future. I don’t mean next week. I mean the far-away, rest-of-my-life future. What is it going to be?
I was at Shawn’s grave the other day, and I saw an old woman across the cemetery. I couldn’t tell her exact age, but she had white hair and moved slowly. She stood next to a grave and then left. I have no idea if she was visiting her parents or her husband or her friend.
But regardless, it made me think. I mean, I will forever visit Shawn’s grave, even if someday I get remarried to some fabulously wealthy guy who flies me all over the globe in his private jet. (Don’t knock it. Crazier things have happened to me. My husband died when I was thirty-eight, remember? But I digress.) God-willing, I will someday be that white-haired lady, stooping down to put flowers on a grave of a man who was half my age when he died.
It’s hard to grasp it – that imagined future where I am an old lady – and yet I know it is likely to someday be true. But who is that woman? What does she think about her 41-year-old self who still can’t quite believe she’s here on this planet without the man who was supposed to go gray with her?
I try to imagine what my 80-year-old self would say to my 41-year-old self, but I keep drawing a blank. I cannot really imagine what 40 more years will look like without Shawn next to me. Yes, I’ll have my kids and I’ll raise them and maybe get some grandkids. But I don’t have any real visions for my future. I guess this is because I don’t imagine my life past the current moment much anymore.
I have gotten a lot better about enjoying the good parts of life, but I haven’t let myself dream like I once did with Shawn. I don’t lay in my backyard hammock and think about taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad in an early retirement. I don’t look out the window on road trips and laugh thinking about getting an RV and seeing every national park once the kids are out of the house. I don’t have an internal debate about someday buying a cheap rental property in the woods, once I can save a bit of money.
I don’t think about any of these far-off parts of my life anymore. It’s so strange, because it was one of the things I discussed most frequently with Shawn. He loved thinking about our lives in 10 or 20 or even 40 years. He loved to dream about the future.
And without him I really don’t do it much anymore.
Maybe that’s why 41 is so daunting. Not just because I’m turning an age he never got to turn. But also because I’m trying to forge a life that he never got to live. I’m getting to be on this planet in my 40s, and I should be grateful.
Instead, I feel confused by it.
Maybe it’s because I don’t dream enough anymore. Maybe that needs to be a goal of mine this year. But it’s just so hard to fathom it: a whole life, without Shawn, stretching out before me.
For now, I think I just need to figure out how to move through this year on my own. But maybe in a few months when the frost clears, I’ll go out to the hammock, put on some headphones and listen to the Tragically Hip as I stare at the blue sky.
And maybe I’ll dream about something that isn’t yet. Something that will be, sometime, in some other place.