Tomorrow, May 21st, is Jeff's birthday. He would have been 37. It also would have been our 15th wedding anniversary.
For Jeff's last birthday, his parents were in town visiting. Aubrey made him some of her famous oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies instead of a birthday cake (his special request), and we watched the American Idol finale. His main birthday gift was a basketball hoop that we installed next to the driveway a month or two before his actual birthday. I don't remember if we got him anything else. I don't remember celebrating our last anniversary at all.
Jeff was typically very good about anniversaries (especially when you consider that it eclipsed his birthday). For our 10th anniversary, Jeff surprised me with an anniversary ring with 10 diamonds and surprised me further by secretly bringing my mom, grandma, brother, sister (and her family) all to Milwaukee to visit. We went out to dinner at Mo's Steakhouse and had a once-in-a-lifetime feast and spared no expense. I like to think he would have done something equally fantastic for our 15th. I hope he would have taken me on a trip--just the two of us. I haven't had a "real" vacation since he died (unless you count the ill-fated trip to Nebraska that ended in a puking extravaganza), but I really can't afford to take any time off from work. So, instead I imagine he would have planned something very memorable and over-the-top. I always liked the idea of a big anniversary party--with my friends and his friends and our friends. With our families and kids. I wasn't patient enough to wait until our 20th anniversary and had secretly hoped to have such a party on our 15th. But, after Jeff got sick, I stopped thinking about the future, and I'm glad now that I'm out of that habit.
My parents were married for just over 12 years, and when Jeff and I passed that milestone in mid-2006, I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment. As we passed the 12-year mark, I joked with Jeff that I had never experienced an intact family past that point, so I would be on a new learning curve. It is the single hardest and saddest realization of my life, thus far, to know my children might now be able to say the same thing to their husbands and wives someday. Little did I know when I said it that Jeff and I would not make it much past that 12-year mark, and today--on what should have been our 15th anniversary--I would be back on familiar ground.
So, I don't know what tomorrow will bring. Today, I've been wistful and weepy. I dread tomorrow and, at the same time, I'm excited for it to come (I guess old habits die hard). Mostly, I worry that the hours will tick by without fanfare or acknowledgement. I know there will be no more cards or flowers, and even though I'm sad to miss the occasion, I can let go of my anniversary easy enough. It's worse to think that Jeff's birthday will disappear into the rear view mirror and that he will no longer be celebrated. I know that chief among Jeff's fears was that he would be forgotten. I now share that fear, too.
One of my high school friends, named Travis, died six years ago. Like Jeff, he was handsome and engaging and universally well-liked. A few of my other high school friends have been busy this week planning the annual golf tournament that is held in his honor--the proceeds of which go toward funding a scholarship in Travis' name. When I heard that so many people in my class were still dedicated to keeping Travis front-of-mind and who were still sacrificing time and money to honor him SIX YEARS after he died, I was . . .well, oddly, I was jealous.
Earlier this week I called Jeff's high school. I knew that shortly after Jeff died, a couple of his classmates had established a Jeff Dodd Memorial Scholarship, and because it is nearing the end of the school year, I was curious who won his scholarship and how much the school awarded in Jeff's name. The foundation office at his high school informed me that once the balance in his scholarship fund reaches $10,000 it will generate an annual scholarship of five percent ($500). Until it reaches that benchmark, it cannot fund a scholarship and no money will be awarded. I asked more questions and they were very kind and generous in giving me answers. But, to date, Jeff's scholarship only has $1,200 in it. I supplemented that with a donation in memory of Jeff's birthday and our anniversary, but we're still not even at the half-way mark.
So, I was disheartened to hear that without significant contributions, Jeff's scholarship may never even generate an award--and I'm afraid time and distance from Jeff's death will only make it less likely people will contribute. In other words, I think people were most likely to donate while both his life and his death and the stories of both were fresh in people's minds. Now, I worry that this attempt to memorialize him will die on the vine. So, I was jealous to hear that people were still turning out to give money for Travis (which even I, myself, have done in the past), and that Jeff's memorial is stalled.
So, my desire to memorialize him well has been reinvigorated and I hope that tomorrow, in particular, will bring clarity and that the best ways for me to honor him will begin to come into focus. I'll see how well I do at work tomorrow and how long I last. If it's too much, I'm sure I'll think of ways to comfort myself. I already have one fun distraction planned. I was lamenting to Liz that I don't have an anniversary this year and she reminded me that this month marks eight years that she and I have worked together. So, we are going out to lunch tomorrow for our own "anniversary." Liz, you better start planning the big party now for our 15th! Ha!
I'll report back soon to let you know how it goes. Until then, take care and thanks as always for checking in.