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He would’ve been 36 today.

Even after six and a half years, anniversaries of any kind are difficult. When we love people, we memorize dates that are important, that honor them or our relationship. After they die, those dates become hurdles, often lined with “I should” statements.

I’ve found anticipation is often worse than the actual day, I’ve been thinking all week about what I should/want/need to do for James today. I could:
• make his favorite foods: cheesy potatoes, Parmesan chicken, brownies
• play and sing Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” on my piano, as I did at his funeral (And now, I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.)
• share the scrapbook I made of our life together with a close friend
• write him a letter
• call one of his family members and share stories about him
• visit his grave under the snow, tracing my fingers over every letter and telling him about my life now
• drive up north to the place we got married, releasing balloons over Lake Superior
• use his camera to take pictures of beautiful things still in nature
• act like he would to every person I meet, with open-mindedness, calmness, and kindness
• tell the people alive in my life now how much they mean to me

I like this list, and have done - or tried to do - all of these things. But this year something is different. Perhaps it’s because I’m 36 weeks pregnant and keep thinking about how much he wanted to be a dad. I remember telling him how much the world needed more people like him, and how he’d always respond: “I appreciate that, honey, but I am who I am because of what I’ve been through.” (Example: On our first date, I asked him to tell me about something that forever changed who he was. I know, great starter question, right? He responded so thoughtfully, sharing about his parents’ divorce when he was five years old and the many types of pain that followed. “I think it would be easy to be bitter about it all,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure it’s why I have so much empathy today.”)

Right now, at 7:50 AM, I’m imagining his energy around me. I can almost feel him wrapping his arms over my shoulders and telling me what would make him happiest:
• watch me relish brownies like he did
• listen to me play my favorite songs on the piano - rather than the one that makes me cry
• make a new page in my scrapbook about my continuing adventures
• write a letter to my unborn daughter about what makes me who I am
• send my new book about grief to his family and others who could use it
• not visit his grave, because he’s not there
• reminisce about the events that made us laugh while exploring the north shore (his red neck accent, playing in the snow up to our waists, coming off Valium when he dislocated his shoulder ice-skating, getting lost in Wisconsin on our way home...)
• take pictures with his camera of whatever makes me smile
• behave with love as myself and to myself, recognizing he fell in love with a woman he didn’t want to change
• tell everyone who is or has been a part of my life how much they mean to me (after all, physics - and the dragonfly story - tells us that nothing in the universe is ever gone/destroyed; it just changes form)

All these tweaks to my originals sound real, James-like, and purposeful. I now know what I want to do today. I will forever be grateful that I knew him, that he loved me, and that I can still honor him in so many ways.

Michelle Jarvie is an author and educator from Minneapolis, MN. She writes about the loss of her husband, James, to a motor vehicle collision in 2008, and how to find new patterns from broken pieces in the kaleidoscope of life. Connect with her online and check out her recently published book, Then & Now: Changed Perspectives of a Young Widow, at