Today is my birthday and so I thought today was a fitting moment to talk about what it feels like to “celebrate” a birthday after losing a spouse.
As anyone who knows me well will attest, I love parties, I love dressing up, I love dancing and I love being the center of attention. Therefore, I suppose it is unsurprising that I used to absolutely love my birthday. I used to celebrate my birthday for about a week every single year… separate celebrations with Karl, my best friend, family and some kind of dinner/party with a group of friends. Essentially, birthdays to me were special.
Looking back at my last birthday with Karl (even though I had no idea it was the last one) it was really special. He took me to Hawksmoor and we had the tasting menu there and the next day he took me for a luxury spa day at the Nirvana Spa in Berkshire (my favorite spa resort in the UK).
This was the last birthday card I ever received from my husband. If you can’t read his terrible handwriting it reads:
“Dear Kira, I really hope that you have a wonderful birthday as you deserve. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for strategically placing you in my life where you continually want to bring out the best in me. I only hope that I can give you a morsel of what you are due in return. With unending love your husband Karl.”
One year later, the 5 June 2017, was a day that was blindingly painful for me. My first birthday after Karl died, just over 2 months after his death. It was my first “first”. “Firsts” are a term that widow/ers use to refer to all of the first times they reached a milestone without their spouse whether that be birthdays, wedding anniversaries or the anniversary of the death itself.
I think that I was still in total shock at that stage. I had celebrated 11 birthdays with Karl and spent my entire adult life with Karl. I had no idea how to do life without him. How to do life as a single person. My mind could not even begin to process the fact that he was never going to celebrate my birthday with me ever again.
This was me on my birthday in 2017. When I look at the picture, I feel sad for that girl. I spent my birthday at a luxury spa resort in the Caribbean on a white sand beach, having a massage and drinking cocktails with my best friend in the world. Which probably sounds like a dream come true to many people, except it wasn’t.
Because for me, I had absolutely nothing to celebrate. I was still totally traumatised by Karl’s death, not sleeping, walking around like a half zombie, super skinny, only able to tolerate being around a few people at a time. My birthday felt like a cruel joke, like how could this possibly count and why would I ever want to celebrate getting older without him.
My memories from the time are hazy because I think at the time I was only half present. Every single moment of every single day I was trying to make sense of the tragedy. Desperately trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Convinced that if, somehow, I solved the mystery of what had happened to my life, I could just reverse it and bring him back.
However, what I want to focus on today is one of the things that saved me or rather one of the people who did. A person who will always be a part of my story, a person who helped me rebuild my life and take charge of my narrative again so that it is one of survival and not of destruction.
I have lost count of how many times people have told me I am strong but I did not do it by myself. I think a huge contributing factor to my survival was the fact that I had and have such amazing family and friends. You probably won’t know that the number one complaint of widows/ers is that after they lost their person, they also lost all their friends. I am so grateful that that was not my experience. My friends and family came through (en-masse) for me in ways that still takes my breath away and I am so grateful.
So today I want to write about just one of them: Akima, the person who made my first birthday special even in the midst of my terrible grief. There will never be words to express how much I love this incredible woman. She isn’t my friend, she is my sister and we are family. She is the big sister that I always wanted that I picked for myself.
Akima and I met through a mutual friend who informed us that we would get along. Both of us were sceptical! Then, finally, at the same friend’s wedding we met and we instantly connected. We spent the whole wedding together, dancing and laughing and then we started going to these networking events where we would spend the whole time just talking to each other and laughing. One of my funniest and earliest memories is of us comparing the totally inappropriate outfits that we wore (and thought were appropriate) at our respective Oxford and Cambridge formal dinners which consisted of mini-skirts, see-through blouses and a leather dress!
Over the years we became closer and closer with so many parties, holidays abroad, Akima planning my hen party, being one of my bridesmaids and finally for me the absolute highlight, honour and privilege of being asked to be Godmother to Aren.
But the real test of any friendship is whether it endures during the hard times as well as the happy ones.
The same day that Karl died, Akima came straight over to the flat to be with me on the worst day of my life. She came despite the fact she lived on literally the other side of London and was nursing a newborn at the time. I will never ever forget the fact that Akima then called me every single day after Karl died to make sure that I was OK sometimes multiple times a day. You have to have met Aren as a newborn to realise what a huge deal this was.
A few months later, Akima invited me to spend my birthday with her in Grenada. I stayed at Akima’s mum’s house in St Mark’s in the countryside of Grenada. It was so good for me to escape the UK and I loved St Mark’s. I was not in any kind of state to be fun or any kind of good company but Akima drove me all over the island, we went to rooftop bars, we went to a chocolate factory, we even went for hilly runs with Akima accompanying me in a car!!! It was Akima who organised the spa day for my birthday. She never stopped trying and she will always do anything she can to make my life happier.
These words are totally inadequate to express what an amazing friend I have in Akima or how much I love and appreciate her. Everyone who meets Akima loves her, she is passionate, funny, full of energy, super smart but also has the kindest heart. She is Counsel at a top US law firm, Grenada’s ambassador to the Vatican, a former Calypso Monarch in Grenada (she is literally famous in Grenada) and on top of that an incredible wife to Sean and a mother to Aren. I am constantly inspired by the woman that she is and humbled by the fact that she makes time for me no matter what. No matter what petty disaster I have gotten myself into in my life, she is always there. Always prepared to listen. I am so proud of her and I want nothing less for her than the absolute best that life has to offer.
As for birthdays, it is fair to say I do not feel the same way about them that I used to. I think it is easy to celebrate getting older when everything in your life is in place or at least that you are at peace with where you are currently. I am so proud of myself for the life I have rebuilt from scratch and I am blessed in many ways. I have given just one example but, as a collective, I have the most incredible friends that a person could wish for and in that respect I am the luckiest girl in the entire world.
But I am not going to pretend that my current life is enough. I want more and I need more and I know one day I will find the happiness that I seek ,again, which means I will celebrate every minute of my birthday… for a week!
I’m not there yet but I know I will get there some day soon. In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment spent with the people who bring nothing but happiness to my life.