By Kate Kole
Last week, my older brother would have turned 40. It was the 15th birthday we’ve had without him here with us.
While most dates are just numbers on the calendar, Mondays blurring into Tuesdays and one errand running into the next, birthdays stand apart.
There’s anticipation and expectation. Memories of the past and wishes for the future.
When his birthday rolls around each November, I think about the first year he wasn’t here. The way our grief felt heavy and hard to carry. How we wondered if we’d ever feel happy again.
Each breath seemed effortful, each holiday like a task to overcome. One foot in front of the other, one moment at a time.
When I woke up on his birthday this year, I thought of him first. And when I went to bed that evening, he was my last thought of the night. My family texted ways we were remembering and honoring him throughout the day.
In between those thoughts and conversations were other things, too. Christmas music and holiday shopping. Singing and laughing. A long walk with the warm sun shining.
As I washed my hands at the kitchen sink and contentedly listened to my toddler make animal noises in his high chair, a Psalm entered my mind.
Joy comes with the morning.
And in that moment, on one of my hardest days of the year, I felt joy. Joy that 15 years earlier felt like it might never come again. Joy strong enough to stake its place alongside pain.
Grief isn’t linear. It has no manual or expiration. Without warning, it arrives as a song comes on the radio, or as a football game plays on the TV, or as warm apple crisp is drawn out of the oven.
Perhaps that’s part of its purpose. To remind us that it’s worthy too. That our love isn’t lost, that our stories matter, that darkness and light can coexist.
Maybe our grief doesn’t ever fully go away. Instead, it becomes a part of us. Offering glimpses into where we’ve been, what we’ve felt, and how we got to where we are today.
Still standing. Both softer and stronger for it.