Confession: I didn’t always love my birthday.
I love birthdays. I love hanging streamers from the kids doorframes to greet them on their birthday morning. I love making a big deal out of other people’s birthdays. I love exclaiming, “It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!” all. day. long. I especially love my Soto family’s “first and worst” singing competition where my parents, brothers, sister and I (now accompanied by our families) contend to be the first to call and/or the worst to sing the most awful version of the birthday song to the lucky recipient. The winner gets bragging rights. It’s almost always my mom. God bless her tenacity (and her laugh!).
Fourteen years ago, my birthday was in danger. Kevin had died just one week before and I was in a raging internal battle with him about how could he go and leave us like that? And at Christmas? And miss MY BIRTHDAY! How would I even be able to start the day without him making me breakfast in bed? This was just the beginning of many harsh realizations that nothing was ever going to be the same. But – as I would discover over time – that didn’t mean it couldn’t still be special in its own new way.
That night, my girls SHOWED UP for a birthday dinner at Macaroni Grill. Looking back, it reminds me of the scene from the movie, Elizabethtown, when Drew, just after his dad’s sudden passing, arrives at the family home and is greeted by his cousin with a bear hug and a promise: “This loss will be met by a hurricane of love.” And just like in the movie, the evening was filled with noise and chaos as we shared memories, shed tears, and laughed together. It was overwhelming and wonderful. Not at all what I wanted, but just what I needed.
For the first few years after Kevin died, I just couldn’t uphold our family traditions for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. It was too much for me to do without him. It made him feel more gone.
So, we started new traditions. And then, over time, when we were ready, we brought back some of the old traditions that now felt sweeter, and we merged them together, gradually creating our new version of normal.
No loss is the same. No grief journey is the same – especially when it comes to the holidays. One thing that has helped my family is having a plan. Knowing in advance how we’ll celebrate not only helps lessen the dread of the upcoming day without our loved one, but it actually gives us something to look forward to; a tradition to uphold in his memory. People often ask me how we get through it, so today we’d like to share some stories from the Hauser Bubble about what works for our family.
December is an especially tough month for us as it includes the anniversary of Kevin’s death, followed closely by The Hauser Bubble Christmas Kickoff Weekend, followed closely by my birthday, followed closely by Christmas. Whew.
Some years I’ve put up a tree and some I haven’t. Last year we didn’t have a traditional tree and this year the kids insisted we put one up. We compromised with a half-size tree that fits all of the most sentimental ornaments, yet doesn’t overwhelm. We give ourselves grace and do what we can in the moment.
What holds us together in December is serving others. Blessing others as we’ve been blessed gets us out of the house and into other people’s lives. It keeps things in perspective and reminds us that we are not the only ones struggling over the holidays. In fact, there are many out there that have it way tougher.
Kate: Every year growing up, we went to see the Trains at North Park. It’s one of my favorite Christmas memories with my family! As a toddler, Jake was obsessed with “choo choo’s” and I especially liked the fancy mall. One year, after my dad passed away, we made a donation in support of their charity, The Ronald McDonald House, and got to put his name on an “In Memory of” train car that would be part of that year’s holiday exhibition. A whole group of friends joined us to go watch it circle around the tracks for Christmas. It was amazing. That train car is now one of our most treasured Christmas decorations that we proudly display on our mantle.
Kate: I can’t begin to tell you how much I looked forward to Valentine’s Day every year, the special night that my dad would take me out and spoil me rotten. ME. The eager, talkative daughter, over his WIFE. He would get me “pretty smelly stuff” from Bath & Body Works. The full-size trio. We would dress up, take our ceremonial picture in front of the fireplace, and go out to a fancy dinner! It took me years to fully understand the level of love, dedication, and sacrifice this showed – both on his part, and my mom’s. I pray that one day I’ll find a man who will love and dote on his daughter the way my dad loved and doted on me.
Oh my goodness, that first Valentine’s Day broke my heart into a thousand pieces for my sweet girl. I tried. I bought her the pretty smelly stuff. The full-size trio. But somehow that made things worse. She burst into tears. This tradition we just had to let go. There’s a limit to what role I can play as both mom and dad to my kids. We have now replaced it with a Papa Murphy’s heart shaped pizza for dinner. Not even a close second, but it works for us.
Kevin’s Birthday: May 13th.
Jake: I’ve always had fond memories of my dad’s birthdays, most of them centering around the balloon tradition. Each year we drive to the store and each of us picks out our own “Happy Birthday, Dad!” balloon to carry birthday messages to him in heaven. The message isn’t super complicated, but it means a lot to me because it’s my own little note to my dad. When we’re done, we tie on the notes and release them up to heaven where he can read them. It was always an exciting day, especially when I was younger. As the balloons floated out of sight and away into heaven, I could only wonder what he would think when he read them. Sometimes I even thought that when I joined him up there, he would show them to me. We would read through them together, and he could tell me how much he loved them.
Kate: I’ve never asked her, but I’ve always thought that this must be the hardest holiday for my mom. My dad always made a big deal out of making her breakfast in bed, bringing her coffee and gifts, and upholding the “No working for mom on Mother’s Day!” tradition. As the oldest child, I felt like it was my duty to keep up that up after he was gone, but it was hard! I was only 10. So that first year, I did the best I could and brought her coffee and toast. Soon, I learned how to make eggs, then I started adding fresh fruit, too. It took years before I was confident enough to make a whole meal. I think I was 15 or 16 when I volunteered to make brunch for my mom and a few of her single mom friends. I don’t think I even made it through one dish before I was on the floor crying because I put so much pressure on myself to do it just like my Dad did. My mom and her friends came in, picked me up off the floor, and we all hugged and finished making the meal together which turned out to be a really sweet day.
On the first Father’s Day without Kevin, our good friends and neighbors invited us to visit their family farm for the weekend where we were warmly welcomed as special guests. It was such a relief to get out of town and not have to think about cooking or cleaning. There were extra hands to help with the kids who just loved roaming around in the wide-open spaces. On Sunday, before heading home, we painted rocks for our daddy garden. I didn’t even realize how much of a ticking time bomb we had avoided until the next year when we went to church on Father’s Day. I drove home with a distraught Jake in the back seat holding a blank card with a giant tie on the front. After that, we never went to church on Father’s Day. We stayed home and painted rocks instead.
Jenna: It usually takes me a long time to think about what I’m going to paint. I ask myself: How does this reflect what I remember about my dad this year? or What do I want him to know about me? One year, I painted a watermelon with the words “I love my Dad” in calligraphy because I’d recently gotten really good at calligraphy and I thought he’d be proud of me for that. One of the first times I remember painting rocks with my family, Jake painted a great big breakfast for daddy complete with eggs, toast, and coffee. He said that since we always make mom breakfast in bed, why don’t we paint dad a breakfast for Father’s Day? I love going into the back yard, looking through our garden, and seeing the rocks painted with our stories.
Our Anniversary: July 2nd.
Our couple anniversary became our family anniversary as we now celebrate BEING Hausers WITH the Hausers over the 4th of July holiday. We head to San Antonio for making memories with the Ppaws, which always includes the picnic on the patio at “the club”, me and Kate crushing all the small children in the egg toss competition, and ice cream and sparklers on the patio to round out the day. Uncle Scott would often fly in from California to join us, entertaining us with his witty banter, latest gadgets, and jokes about all things Texan. It’s almost incomprehensible that he, too, passed away unexpectedly last year, which makes our Hauser family time together even more precious now.
We have loved and lost. We have gotten through it with our faith, our traditions, and with each other. It has not always been easy, but it has always been a gift worth treasuring.
And speaking of gifts …. It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!