No matter how old you are, your birthday is special! Even if you’ve never enjoyed the “birthday girl” spotlight and parties, the day is still meaningful. But this year is different…it’s your first birthday alone since your husband died.
“I’m turning 40 and experiencing my first birthday as a widow,” says Beth on 12 Creative Ways to Celebrate and Honor Your 40th Birthday. “Grieving on your birthday changes everything. I feel undesirable, sad and lonely. My husband and I were married for 22 years and we celebrated his 40th birthday with a cruise to the Bahamas, five years ago. I am feeling so much sadness but he’s been gone for almost 10 months and it is better now. His absence is palpable but I’m also feeling a sense of accomplishment. I’m still here, I’m turning 40, and my life isn’t over yet! I know my husband would want me to have a happy birthday, eat lots of cake and even raise a glass to his life. My pieces are slowly coming together and I know I’ll survive this birthday. Thank you for letting me share!”
Maybe you’re like Beth; you feel both sad yet hopeful about your future. You’re sad because you lost your husband within the past year and this your first birthday without him…and you’re hopeful because you recognize signs of that you’re healing and moving forward.
I was also inspired to write this article by a reader’s comment on What to Remember When You Miss Your Husband. Her husband died three years ago, the day before she turned 65. They were planning her retirement/birthday party — two celebrations in one! — when her husband was killed in a car accident. She didn’t have time to think about facing her first birthday alone as a widow; she was too busy planning the funeral.
How Will You Spend Your First Birthday Without Him?
One thing worse than celebrating a birthday alone is facing your first birthday as a widow after your husband dies. But I have good news for you! No, your husband isn’t coming back. But I did find an article called “10 Ways to Get Happier” in an old Best Health magazine. Some of the tips weren’t too surprising, but others are fantastic. In this article I share the best tips for getting happier; I hope they help you have the happiest birthday possible without your husband.
1. Instead of trying to be happy, open your heart to being just a little happier
Your expectations affect how happy you are — especially when you experienced many happy birthdays with your husband in the past. This year is different. Your friends and family are different, too. They feel awkward. They don’t know how to wish you a happy birthday without ignoring the fact that your husband is gone. They want to make you happy, but they just don’t know how. You, too, may not know how to be happy. This is okay, because trying to be happy backfires! Pursuing happiness by throwing a big birthday party or ignoring how you feel about your first birthday as a widow won’t make you happier…it’ll make you feel disappointed and lonely.
“Why do we sometimes feel so disappointed at our own birthday party?” asked journalist Lesley Young in her “getting happier” article. “Research shows that putting too much stock in the pursuit of happiness for its own sake can backfire. The trouble is the expectation that, for example, the party itself will make us happy; that leads to too much focus on the end point versus simply engaging in the activities that make us happy.”
2. Be open to the company of strangers
I haven’t lost my husband, so I don’t know what it’s like to face a birthday without him. But I’ve spent several birthdays alone; I didn’t get married until I was 35. On How to Be Happy Alone on Your Birthday I describe how I spent one of my most memorable birthdays. I was alone at a neighborhood pub, sitting at the bar, feeling sorry for myself. After a glass of wine, I told the bartender and the guys at the bar that it was my birthday…and they not only bought me drinks and appetizers, they sang “Happy Birthday!” Several times.
That night turned out to be one of my happiest birthdays. A few more people sat at the bar; they were talkative, friendly, and happy to share birthday memories. They even talked about their saddest and loneliest birthdays — as well as how they spent birthdays after breakups, divorces, and deaths. I can’t remember if a widow talked about how she spent her first birthday after her husband died, but there were lots of poignant memories. Listening to their stories made me feel a lot better about spending my birthday alone. I started the evening wondering how to spend my birthday alone, without anyone. I went home comforted by the company of strangers.
3. Forget “retail therapy” — especially on your first birthday without your husband
Last week I wrote What to Buy Your Wife on Her 50th Birthday. I didn’t think I’d enjoy writing that article because I hate shopping. Plus, I was writing for husbands who wanted to buy birthday presents for their wives, which definitely isn’t my strength. But it turned out that writing that blog post actually made me happy! I imagined I was a husband who just wants to give his wife a happy birthday. Creating a list of birthday gifts for wives may not seem enjoyable but it made me feel great. I didn’t have to spend money buying things; I just enjoyed the feeling of giving birthday gifts to make someone happy.
4. Notice your thought patterns
You’re grieving, which means your thought patterns aren’t the same as before. What’s happening in your mind and heart? Are you relieved that your husband died after a long terminal illness, or shocked because you suddenly lost him? Are you angry because you didn’t get to say what you wanted to say? Express your thoughts and feelings in writing, or some external expression that suits your personality. Expressing your emotions in a formal, visible way will help loosen the grief, anger, and shock. Then, once you’ve expressed the pain you feel at facing your first birthday after your husband’s death, you can start focusing on moving forward.
I don’t know what your future plans are, but I suspect you want to be happy. We all want to be happy, don’t we? The good news is that happiness is achievable — even for widows who feel like they’ll never get over their husband’s death. It might be this simple: happy widows dwell on thoughts and feelings that make them feel good. They notice when they’re sinking into grief and loneliness, and they choose to think happier thoughts. Could it be as simple as that — especially when you’re facing your first birthday alone as a widow? Instead of dwelling in your grief, find activities or people that lift your spirits. Choose to linger in the surprise and joy.
5. Know that you’ll never experience this birthday again
Do you think that the first birthday after your husband dies is the hardest one? I think so. I think that getting through this birthday alone, knowing that you’ll always be celebrating birthdays without him, will be the worst. And then your birthdays — and other anniversaries — will get easier, lighter, and happier! You’ll never have to experience this birthday again.
Or…maybe you’re sad that you’ll never face another first birthday after losing your husband. A widower once told me that the more time passed after his wife’s death, the sadder he felt. He felt closer to her when there was less time between her death and the present moment. What about you — how do you feel about time passing after your husband’s death? Some widows are grateful; others wish they could stay as close to the death day as possible. Starting over as a woman over 60 after her husband dies is different for everyone.
6. Don’t underestimate your heart’s ability to heal
“We find our way to happiness even when things aren’t working out the way we want,” writes Lesley Young in her article on getting happier. “Research shows that people tend to get over negative events much faster than they expect. The theory is that we have an emotional immune system—much like our physiological one—that fends off negative emotions.”
How do you boost your emotional immune system after your husband dies — especially when you’re facing a birthday? You may have “tried and true” activities that make you happy. How about trying different things? Rebuilding your life involves exploring parts of your personality, neighborhood and world in different ways. Try different things and finding what fits you. The timing is perfect: it’s your first birthday, your husband would want you to live freely and happily, and you can treat yourself to an experience you’ve never tried.
7. Remember that you are more important than you realize
In What to Remember When You Feel Like No One Cares I wrote about the moment I learned that I matter to people more than I realize. I was at a friend’s for dinner; I told her I want to move to a new city. Vancouver is expensive and crowded. I want to live more simply and quietly. My friend said I’d be missed. I waved her away, saying I actually haven’t connected with many people and nobody would miss me. She disagreed, saying I have no idea how much my friends and community love me.
It’s the same for you: you matter more than you know. Right now you feel lonely because of it’s your first birthday after your husband’s death. You’re a widow now; you feel shocked, sad, lonely. Remember that you matter more than you know! I wrote this article for you. It wasn’t an accident that you found my blog, or that you’re searching for ways to face your birthday without your husband. You’re here — not just on my blog, but on earth — because God put you here. He created you, loves you, and has a purpose for your life.
How do you feel? Your thoughts — big and little — are welcome below. Feel free to share how you’re spending your birthday, or random memories of your life with your husband.
One last thing…
Remember how I said this blog post was based on an article called “10 Ways to Get Happier” in an old Best Health magazine? Well, the author of this article, Lesley Young, she died a few months ago. She was 47 years old.
Lesley Young (August 23,1972 – April 12, 2019) left us on April 12, after a long and difficult battle with her illness over the last 18 months. During this time, she never complained or wanted to burden anyone. She was an accomplished writer and journalist, and reported and wrote for various magazines, publications, and papers. She won numerous awards for her work. During the last two years, Lesley worked with, and wrote extensively for the news and media relations department at the University of Alberta. She loved to travel and enjoyed seeing many countries and places around the world, especially during this last year. She leaves to mourn her, her loving parents, Kathleen and Barry, her much loved brother Scott, aunt Louise, nieces Sarah, Emily and Allison, nephew Max as well as her significant other, Darin. Lesley will be missed by all who knew and loved her. The family expresses their gratitude to Dr. Huot, Dr. Amigo and the caring staff at the Grey Nuns-Palliative unit. It was Lesley’s wish to have a small celebration of her life and that has taken place. If desired, donations in Lesley’s name may be made to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Lesley, your words are echoing in our hearts, minds, and souls. Rest in peace.
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