Last Friday would have been my husband’s 53rd birthday, and for the 5th year in a row, I marked the date with a Facebook post that included a favorite photo. Many Facebook friends share similar posts on the birthdays of a loved one — usually a parent or grandparent — who has passed away, so my post wasn’t unusual in any way.
What was unusual, for me at least, is that I found a way on my husband’s birthday to slip the significance of the date into most of my conversations. It’s unusual because I certainly didn’t do that when he was alive. I didn’t, for example, respond to the grocery store clerk’s “How are you today, ma’am?” with “Oh, I’m fine. Just thinking of my husband on his birthday today,” as I did last Friday. Wow, talk about overreaching!
But can I confess something? I do the same thing on our anniversary, on the date he was diagnosed with cancer, and on the date he passed away. If you haven’t lost a close loved one, you might be questioning my sanity and thinking of leaving this site never to return, but bear with me just a bit longer.
I don’t get up on those mornings and decide to slip into every possible conversation that the date is in some way — good or bad — special to me. Not at all! The words just slip out, as if on their own. But I know that’s not possible; I realize that it’s on those days that I slip into one of my many roles, that of “the keeper of the flame”.
I became a keeper of the flame long before my husband’s passing. I’m the one who brought together both my husband’s and my own family traditions to our new family when we married, the one who, when I was only 4 months pregnant with our first child, raised the question of whether or not Santa wraps the gifts he leaves under the tree after we go to bed on Christmas Eve (my Santa wrapped; my husband’s did not). It certainly wasn’t my husband who put out the special “birthday plate” four times a year. Oh, he loved the traditions, but I was primarily the one who remembered each of our many family traditions and who did everything possible to keep them alive year after year.
I still keep those traditions alive, but now I also do what I can to keep alive my husband’s memory. Not with my children, of course. Both of them have told me more than a few times that they think of him every single day, both of them have mementos of their father in their homes, and both have a picture of him on their dresser or nightstand. They each speak of him often, recalling something he said or did. No, I’m not worried about my children forgetting their father. It’s the world I’m worried about.
I know it doesn’t make sense, that the idea of keeping alive my husband’s memory by sharing about him with people who didn’t know him to begin with and who will probably forget our conversation within minutes after it ends just isn’t logical.
I only know that it’s important to me that this wonderful man — this great husband, father, son, brother, friend, etc. — never be forgotten. It will happen someday, I know. My future grandchildren will only know him through the stories I and their parents tell them. They will have no stories of their own to tell their own children, and eventually the stories — his stories — will cease to be told.
But that’s not going to happen yet.
Not while I’m the keeper of the flame.