This day, Nate’s birthday, is one I dreaded for a long time, moreso than my own or any of the kids’. I knew it would be sad to pass it by without its owner on hand to celebrate. His absence would be a glaring void, and I expected nausea and tears.
Every August 18 for many years our family celebrated Nate’s and my birthdays in the Wisconsin Northwoods. When the children were young, I had to help facilitate the parties, (although they were the official planners), so we usually set the event on Nate’s day and feted him in style. The kids created a ten-clue treasure hunt each year to lead him to his gifts: “Look in a wet place where bait is kept,” or “Look where we make s’mores.”
Nate threw himself into the annual ritual, and we have photos of him looking for clues under rocks, in row boats, between dock boards and in the tackle box. He’d hold each bit of paper up high in triumph announcing, “Mama, I found another good one!”
Although our family rented a place at Afterglow Lake for 25 straight Augusts, we haven’t been back for ten years. We’ll return this September for a week of reconnecting and reminiscing. A treasure hunt won’t be part of it, and of course Nate won’t be, either, so I get nervous wondering whether it’ll be sweet or sorrowful. Maybe it’ll be some of both.
Today we spent time talking about Nate’s many celebrations. We visited his brother Ken, staying last night and today, and doing our best to remember without regressing back to a time of fresh grief and sadness.
We lunched at Nate’s kind of restaurant in my brother-in-law’s small town, the place where both of them were raised, and enjoyed talking about childhood parties. Ken remembered his older brother’s 12th birthday when the main gift was the Spoon River Anthology, a collection of poetry by Edgar Lee Masters. Nate was thrilled with the gift and loved receiving books every birthday of his life.
He was a cerebral guy, and it seemed appropriate that Birgitta’s first day at her new school would be her Papa’s birthday. The timing wasn’t lost on us as we remembered Nate saying he’d have been a lifelong university student if he could have, loving academics as he did.
The whole family came together on this day. Though many miles separated us, each one checked in by phone (and Nelson via Facebook from Egypt). All of us spent time thinking about Nate, his birthday, his treasure hunts… and our treasure chests, packed with joyful memories of him.
I wonder if Nate knows how much we miss him. He probably doesn’t miss us because he “gets” the finger-snap brevity of earthly life, from his heavenly perspective. He’s thinking, “Please don’t be sad, because in the blink of an eye you’ll all be here, where there’s real treasure: the Lord himself!”
God was good to us on August 18, 1945.
”By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” (Proverbs 24:3-4)