Ten years ago, I pulled off a surprise 40th birthday party for Patrick. It was a great night of celebrating his life with lots of friends. I think his favorite part was that I still put him in charge of the grilling; I can vividly picture him standing by the grill, talking and laughing as he worked his magic on the meat. Later that week, his mom and sister made a surprise visit and took us out to a unique all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. It seems like we celebrated for over a week.
Behind the scenes, I threw together a small scrapbook of “Patrick’s Top 40 rules for life.” Inside the front cover, I wrote these words:
“Happy Birthday, Honey! Since 40 is a memorable birthday, but certainly not the end of the road, I wanted to celebrate you by sharing 40 of your life habits that we know and love about you.”
Some of the items in the scrapbook represented his funny quirks:
- #8 Running out of milk is a sin
- #16 Spend more time blowing than mowing
- #22 Eat French fries with a fork
- #26 Make your own guacamole
- #28 The golf channel is the only one you need
- #31 Always find the shade
- #34 Don’t trip on my feet, just rub my feet
Others illustrated his practical side:
- #7 Call your mom once a week
- #13 Shake hands with a firm grip
- #14 Never pay full price
- #17 On time means 5 minutes early
- #33 Laugh often
Several others demonstrated his character:
- #12 Trust in God and follow His word
- #20 Don’t stay angry for more than five minutes
- #29 Be an involved father
- #30 Lead by example
- #32 Stay Faithful to your bride
- #35 Accountability counts
- #38 Be loyal to your friends
I’m sure that however you knew Patrick, you can smile and agree as you read one of the above points. You could probably add your own from your memories of him.
Did any of us imagine that Patrick wouldn’t live to see 50? Nope. But God knew. Maybe He had me make a big deal out of his 40th because we wouldn’t have a 50th party. I don’t know.
Patrick looked forward to a long life, yet he always had a feeling he would die young. There were a few occasions when he mentioned that thought to me. Of course I would argue and say “you have no way of knowing” or “don’t say that!” Now I joke that I should have said “then go buy more life insurance.” You’ll have to excuse me if that sounds sick, but I have to find bits of humor where I can in the midst of the tragedy of losing my husband so young.
When Patrick was diagnosed with ALS right after his 46th birthday, he knew he was going to die and it was going to be quick. He thought less than two years; it was barely over one. He did not pray for healing; he prayed for grace to die well. As his muscles deteriorated and he suffered greatly, he would sometimes ask me if I thought he was complaining. I honestly can’t remember a time when he complained or was negative about the course God had set his life on. He would communicate his needs as they arose because he couldn’t help himself, but there were no signs of bitterness or anger.
He wanted us to keep living; he never once asked the kids to not go somewhere or do something to stay with him. In fact, if there was any way to bring him along, we did. Looking back now, I realize how much internal strength it must have taken to not care about his appearance and helplessness, but instead he let the desire to be with his family and partake in a part of our lives override any insecurities of people staring. What a man he was! The only time he sobbed was a few months before his death when he couldn’t keep going out and he knew his kids were going to have to through life without him. He didn’t weep for himself, but for us.
Barely eight weeks after his 47th birthday, God took Patrick home. If he were still on earth, today would be his 50th birthday. Somehow we would have made it a big deal…with family, friends, laughter and food. He probably would have endured the jokes about being old with his standard response of “bite me.”
Instead, I am left alone with just the memories of the love of my life. No doubt it will be a hard day. I will do what I can to keep busy, but the pain is always there. The tears are ever ready to burst out when I give them the chance. The last couple of months, the loneliness has been intense. Like a heavy, damp blanket that I can’t get out from underneath. Sometimes I just want to be free of the grief, yet it’s still a journey through which I am walking.
I know Patrick wouldn’t want me to mope around on his birthday, or on any other day in fact. So I will choose to focus on the good times, shed my tears and keep going. I know that each birthday is a gift from God. Aging is a privilege; there are no guarantees. I am thankful for my health, my family, my job, and for the ability to run. I am so grateful for my church and the freedom to worship God and the many provisions He continues to demonstrate to me daily. While this may sound like a trite list that anyone could spout off, I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart. Without God’s grace and His word, I could not face each day.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21