Uncharted TerritoryBy Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
28 March 2021
All photos my own, taken 27 & 28 March 2021
Yesterday I had my 54th birthday. An age Mike never made. He made 53 and 8 ½ months-ish. I was aware, to the date, 8th December 2020, when I became the age, to the actual day, that he died. Every day since then has felt even more like a gift.
I noticed such heaviness – literally physical weight – on my heart these last 2-3 weeks. I knew it was about the “annual deluge of dates” between 20th March – when Mike went into hospice in 2017 – and 2nd May (when Ben turned 18). And I knew that a piece of this heaviness, this year, my fourth birthday without Mike, was about turning 54, the age he never made.
I have never been one to fuss about turning 30 or 40 or 50. I know that that is because I have long felt happy with myself, my life, my relationship, my work. I had kids easily, when I/we wanted to, and didn’t feel the angst of the biological clock ticking. I think that is a huge thing, potentially, for women in particular. I remember girlfriends being seemingly nervous about turning 30, 40, 50… I never got it…. Why? Not so much, “what’s the big deal?”, or “age doesn’t matter”, but more, “I love my life, and I am proud and feel honoured to be allowed to live this long”.
This has been emphasised all the more since Mike died. I have no truck for my older-than-me friends “complaining” about turning 60 or more. Fuck it – ageing is an honour. A privilege. Don didn’t make 50. Edward didn’t make 47. Mike didn’t make 54. Julia didn’t make 16. And many kids – too many that I know of – didn’t make much younger ages. So ageing is an honour, a privilege, a gift that not everyone gets to open.
So this year, turning 54 felt tricky, but not because I am scared about getting older (perhaps I will be in time, but not yet). Turning 54 felt lonely. Uncharted. Mike was always treading out the paths 3 ½+ years ahead of me. He reached 25, 30, 40 and 50 with ease and grace, and, sailing through all of those, undoubtedly gave me confidence and rendered the ages appealing. What was not to love?
But 54 – none of my close dead ones made that age. I am in unknown territory. Uncharted waters. I no longer have a close, intimate relationship with someone older than me. Sweet babe Medjool is my toy boy – a full 6 weeks younger than I am. He doesn’t know 54 yet.
Up until Friday evening, the evening before my birthday, I wasn’t sure what was what, what I would want… if I would want company or not. I know enough to know that deep down I want to celebrate my day, and this is my second birthday in curfew/lockdown/COVID-times, damn it. But with no restaurants open, no theatre or cinemas, what to do? Turns out there are still myriad options.
I decided a few days before my birthday to have a COVID-safe birthday party in the garden with cake(s) and fizz, accompanied by a few girlfriends…
In the end it was just lovely. Perfection. Truly wonderful. I enjoyed it. I had a good time. I loved it.
Medjool came over on Friday night with a negative Rapid COVID test (my condition – I am hard-arsed – because I want to see Megan in a few days and need my own negative COVID tests ahead of that). We made a lovely dinner which we had with Ben. It had been over 2 weeks since we’d seen one another.
Saturday morning we got up early to go for a final-for-the-season Cross-Country ski. I had a spanking new orange top, courtesy of Medjool, who is trying to ensure I actually have proper kit for biking (a sport I have yet to take up) and cross-country skiing (a sport I took up when I turned 40 and for which I have used inadequate kit since).
Glorious weather. Crisp. Sunny. Fresh.
Later I had a gaggle of gorgeous local girlfriends, who are all safe bets company-wise, over for cake and fizz. Big circle of chairs in the garden. Spatial distancing. Sort of.
Warm blankets as the sun started to slip behind the Jura. Stories of Mike and Julia. Some people expressed what they thought Mike would say to me today. “Well done lass”. “You go, girl”. Or even, “He wouldn’t say anything – it would just be in his eyes and his smile”. “He loved you so much”.
It was heart-warming and sad and warm and happy and wistful and privileged and lovely and special. Ben and Medjool were honorary men. But there is something about girlfriends.
I wish I knew more men who could be present in this way. I miss Don, especially, in these times. I am sure he’d be able to hold the myriad emotions. In pre-loss life I would have invited more people, but I just need to know that those coming can be with their own anxiety, their own emotions. Don’t stuff them down. Don’t jolly things along. Don’t assume that because I can (still) hold a kind of party that all is easy and simple.
I can’t be looking after other people’s distress. I am totally fine watching people fall apart and be sad that Mike/Julia/their own loved ones are not there. I love it when people can talk of Mike and Julia (and Ed perhaps too) and laugh and cry in the same story. That is what I need. That is what they deserve.
I hope one day to be laughed and cried over in equal measure.
I need people who really “get” that it’s okay for me to have a laugh. To show off the presents I bought myself from the gorgeous jeweller Heather McDermott – earrings from Julia, a ring from Mike – just because I need those gifts.
I love receiving all the gifts of flowers, body oil, soothing shawl, pretty bracelet, candles, messages galore, and most important of all – presence, honouring, love and stories.
And Words from Mike’s lips.
Julia is still too hard for us all, but she was there too. She should be turning 17 on Tuesday 30th March, but is not around to do so. I am nowhere near processing that. Almost 2 years on.
And I am grateful. Grateful to be 54 when so many don’t get there. When none of my 4 dead beauties did.
Thank you Mike for beating the path thus far. I will do my best to take it from here.