Today is 7/17/17. It is also my birthday. No matter what happens today, it will be a better day than last year.
Last year my birthday fell on a Sunday, so I preached that morning. My parents had driven the three hours from Statesboro, Georgia. We had a congregational meeting after worship at which we raised the budget by 30 percent, but then I went home to find that Bill had taken a turn for the worse. My father had sat with him while my mother and I went to church. After I got home, Bill asked for morphine for the first time since he had taken ill. We had lunch, and then my parents headed home. My mother knew that this would be her last time to see Bill, but I don’t think any of us knew that this would be the day.
Bill had said to David Plunkett that his fear for some time had been that he would die on my birthday, but that night we kissed, as we always did, and said, “Sweet dreams.” I dozed off but kept waking up to check on him. At 2 a.m., Bill’s body woke me as his spirit left us.
Nothing that happens today will ever compare to what happened last year. The greatest gift of my life came to an end. It wasn’t that Bill was taken away; that could never happen. All those experiences of his presence, however–holding hands, a lifetime of shared memories, inside jokes, calm reassurance, dreams of what was to come–all those things went away.
Bill didn’t want to spoil my birthday with his death. He technically lived two hours past midnight, so he was heroically kind to the end. Still, my birthday was the last day I got to spend with him. As long as I live, it will feel like it was on my birthday that I lost the best gift Life had given me.
Yesterday, several people at church slipped me cards. One of my favorite families brought me a cake. I was deeply touched by the half-a-dozen people who remembered what happened a year ago. I wanted to do something with the church to mark the day because Bill was so important to them. I didn’t have the strength, or courage, however, so I simply let it all pass.
The one thing I can’t let pass, though, is to say that last year my life was consumed by pain and loss on this day. The entirety of the past year has been consumed with grief. Today, however, I want to be consumed with gratitude. As achingly painful as missing Bill is, I got to love him and be fiercely loved by him. That kind of love is rare because it is hard. Like a diamond, the hardness makes it priceless. Bill was a diamond and a gift I never could deserve. All I can say is THANK YOU for the best gift anyone could every get!
Rev. Michael Piazza