Birthday Blues

I spent my 18th birthday surrounded by friends.

One of them was dead.

It was his funeral.

I made my first “guy friends” Sophomore year of high school. We ate lunch together most days. They were friendly and snarky, and our friendship was different from every other experience I’d had with guys, which generally consisted of:

A) unrequited, unilateral crushes (by me on them),

B) merciless teasing (by them on me), or

C) a combination of A and B.

Now, four days before my 18th birthday, one of these boys–the one who always told me to “smile” when he passed me in the hall, sometimes passed me notes, and usually tried to tickle me–was dead. He had shot himself in the head.

They had called our class to the gym for a special assembly. They made the announcement to a collective gasp. His girlfriend cried out and ran out of the gym. I started shaking. It was a couple of days before the shaking stopped and the tears began.

Twenty-one years later, I still get the birthday blues. I don’t really think about his death, so much as feel it. It’s a grief that percolates up through my consciousness, some years never making it into the form of a thought. But it’s always there. Every year.

Along with the drizzly, gray weather of late November in the Northwest, it casts a darkness over my birthday, and clouds my thoughts.

It has helped turn my birthday into a day to just get through, instead of a celebration.

I’d already had mixed feelings about my birthday. It’s near Thanksgiving, so people are usually busy traveling and spending time with their families, and it’s easily forgotten. Plus, as a child, I had to share birthday parties (and guests and cakes and presents) with a brother who was born two years and two days after me. It sounds like a “first world problem” to complain about this, and I know my mother tried her best, but I just never had the sense of having a special day just for me. It’s not that I wanted presents and fancy events, I just wanted to be surrounded by friends. It all comes down to wanting to feel loved, right?

I don’t know why my friend killed himself. It probably came down to wanting to feel loved, too. We all want that.

This holiday season, tell the people you care about, “I love you.” Spend time together. Talk about something real. Hug them. Hold them. Those are the best presents.

Show the people you care about that you love them every day. Don’t wait for a birthday or holiday. Make every day matter.

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26 thoughts on “Birthday Blues

  1. I’m sorry this time of year is tough on you. I think, as you said, it’s a hard part of the year anyway, but this just adds a whole other element to it.

    When I was in high school a boy a year older than I was died of Lyme disease. I remember being totally shocked that someone so young was dead. The next year a boy in my class was killed in a drunk driving incident when he and a friend got into the car after having too many drinks. Again, total shock.

    I can’t imagine knowing someone my age had died by suicide. It’s such a harsh and lonely way to go, and I can see why you still struggle with it.

    I love the end message here. We definitely need to tell those we love that we love them more often.

    1. Thanks Jenn. That sounds really traumatizing too.

      My class lost a boy to a skateboarding accident Freshman year, and then a girl to a bike accident Sophomore year. We’ve had a lot of freak accidents happen to people since then, too… like this one:

      Two college classmates died while I was in college (I didn’t know them but these things trigger a lot of grief), and another one right afterward in an apartment fire. Freshman year of college, around this time, a family that was friends with my family lost their little girl when a teenage boy, who happened to be my brother’s best friend, hit her with his car on purpose to see what it was like.

      Then of course, there was my dad:

      Lately, I’ve been trying to mentally pat myself on the back and just tell myself: you’re still alive, things are pretty okay, that’s more than enough.

  2. Reblogged this on The Life of Kylie and commented:

    I’m too tired to write a post tonight (though I have so many ideas!). A friend of mine reminded me today is the anniversary of the events described here, so I thought I’d repost it. Don’t fret. In less than a week, my birthday will have come and gone, and it will be all unicorns and rainbows around here again.

  3. This is heartbreaking and yet I can relate to it very much. My senior year of high school guy friend killed himself. They called journalism and choir students into the music room to tell us. It was right after Christmas.

  4. Beautiful writing, and I can relate to much of this. Thank you for sharing so honestly from your heart. Our birthdays are very close and this time of year in Alberta keeps getting colder and darker as the days shorten. Writing out our blues can be cleansing and healing, and I thank you for touching my heart with this post. Please know that you are loved all around. Undoubtedly by your family, and also by your blogging family. You are a bright star in this blogoshere, and I enjoy reading your blog very much. Keep on shining your lovely light here. Namaste. Gina

  5. It’s just devastating to think what must have been going on in his head, that he thought the only option was taking his own life. I couldn’t agree more, that during the holiday season – and every day – we need to take time to tell our loved ones we do love them. And not just the people we know and love, but all the people around us. We never know what someone else is going through, we should make an effort to be kind and loving toward everyone. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Thanks for reading and reflecting!! You’re right… We never know what’s going on with other people. That’s a good reminder to be kind and compassionate instead of impatient and judgmental. Life is short. Fill it with love.

  6. Sounds like you are still surrounded by the many friends that shared this collective grief and experience. Suicide is incomprehensible to me. But it is sad how many of us know and have been personally affected by it. My heart goes out to you and your friends.

    1. Thank you. We all create so many invisible ripples. A death, a loss, highlights those ripples through the aftershocks, but we would all be well-served to pay attention to those ripples in life. I was up most of the night with my little guy and am pretty tired. Hope that makes sense!!

  7. This is a beautiful post. I’ll never forget that assembly or the days and weeks after it as our class moved through our grief at losing Erik. His death changed so many. I remember feeling how unfair it was that his funeral was on your birthday. I think of a small group of us every year on the 19th. You, Heather, Wendy, Ruth, my friend Tammi. I still have the artwork Heather drew in Tami’s office after Erik died – it hangs in my counseling office.

    And the shared birthdays – I so understand that part too. With my dad 4 days before and one brother 2 days after, it was hard to ever have my own moment.

    Sending you love. Lots of it. For your birthday and just because.

  8. Always so profound and I can very easily relate. I think you hit the nail on the head and only wish this horrible event was not tied to such an incredible event…your birth. But… perhaps it all happened for a reason….every year, he is reteaching you a lesson and not intended to make your birthday gloomy, but rather remind you to be thankful for the friends and family that surround you. For that he is being a true friend 🙂

  9. I was there, too. You captured it perfectly. I had no idea the sadness that falls over us, to this day, was so close to your birthday. I hope Ruth sees this; it will mean so much to her to know that others remember Erik too. You write so well; it took me back to him. His smile. His essence. His disappearance from our everyday lives. I adore you. Wendy

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