I had been looking forward to my twenty-fifth birthday. As adults, turning another year older doesn’t hold as much excitement as it once did when we were kids. But it still gives me an excuse to see all the people I love most in the world. It gives me a reason to dress up, go to a nice dinner, and indulge in a little ice cream cake—a fun day all about celebration and love.
This year, though, I went to a funeral on my birthday.
About a week earlier, my boyfriend’s family suffered a loss. It wasn’t a family member, but it was a death that hit close to home and sent everyone’s world into chaos. As I watched my boyfriend reel from what had happened, worrying about his younger sister and parents and struggling to come to terms with everything himself—I felt helpless.
To make things worse, he and I had already had a couple rough days before receiving the news. Neither of us had been in great moods and were a little off our games relationshipwise. So this was a frustrating development in an already frustrating week. I tried my best to be supportive and do whatever I could to lighten the emotional load for my boyfriend as he tried to cope with the loss. I would sit in silence if need be, or start a lighthearted conversation when I could tell he needed to smile.
But inwardly, I felt selfish.
I was resentful of the whole situation and how it had ruined my birthday plans. I knew it was ridiculous. Someone had passed away, I kept reminding myself; that takes precedence over everything else. Yet I was still upset that my boyfriend and I didn’t have a chance to recover from our already bad week, and I was nervous that the funeral would fall on my birthday.
Sure enough, it did.
I wish I could say that I was instantly selfless when I heard the news. But initially I teared up and had to fight really hard to gain perspective. My boyfriend felt bad too. He was already hurting and now felt even worse that all of this was ruining my birthday as well. The night before the funeral, though, he and I had a couple of wonderful hours to just talk, catch up, and spend some quality time together. We were in great moods, laughing, and having fun. Things felt normal between us for the first time in over a week.
It was in those joyful moments that I realized I didn’t care that we were going to a funeral the next morning. All I cared about was him. Supporting him and making sure he felt cared for and loved in the middle of a hard week. The following morning when he picked me up, I told him that. But as we walked into the church for the service, he still put his arm around me and apologized that this was happening on my birthday.
I looked at him and said, “You know how I told you I don’t care what I do today, as long as I’m with you? That includes this.” He smiled, kissed me on the head, and we continued to walk into that church a united, mutually supportive team.
The whole experience brought us closer together. When I finally crossed over the line from being selfish to selfless, I gained so much more than I originally thought I was losing. Sure, my birthday didn’t go totally as planned. But I honestly didn’t care. It didn’t feel like I was sacrificing plans , because I gained so much joy by being there for my boyfriend and growing in love with him.
I found a greater capacity to love him than was there before. Dealing with loss helped us both gain a newfound appreciation for each other. I gained a genuine understanding that the small stuff doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t mean my birthday didn’t matter. But going through this helped us realize we could face hard things and come out okay on the other side.