Jon’s Birthday June 20, 2016


It is Jon’s birthday. I spoke with Dad yesterday, and talked with Mom and Al today. They were good, long conversations, but none of us mentioned my younger brother. Even still, I know each of us was thinking about Jon. And missing him. Terribly. We embraced the opportunity to spend some time with each other, even if it was just over the phone.

These calls are often the same year after year. Sometimes we talk about Jon, the fun-loving, deep-thinking waiter. (I remember the minister at the service referring to Jon as the “clown philosopher.” It’s the perfect description.) Sometimes we talk about what kind of man he would be today. Would he be a dad? Would he have fulfilled his dream of becoming an actor? Sometimes, we don’t don’t talk about Jon at all, giving and receiving comfort just by hearing each other’s voices, knowing Jon is absent, yet absolutely present.

This morning over coffee, my husband says, “How about if I try to get off work early, around noon, and we put the boat in the water, head out somewhere?”

“Hell yah!”

I don’t think Mike realizes the significance of the day, but I am thankful that I will not be alone this afternoon, glad for us to be together and have a little adventure. God, I love that guy! At noon, we load our dog into the back of the truck, hook up the trailer, grab some Subway at the gas station, and take the boat out to Prospect Lake.

At the boat launch, an older man is fishing. “Any luck,” I ask? He points down and smiles. His catch, about four trout, are strung together on a fish chain and anchored in the water by a large rock. In the sunlight, the fish glint beneath the water’s surface. “Nice,” I say. Jon and I used to fish, and when we were lucky enough to catch something, we used a fish chain exactly like that.

We ease away from the boat launch, then put it in high gear until we are speeding across the lake, the wind blowing at our faces. I catch myself grinning. There are no water skiers today. It’s midweek and the lake is ours. We stop the boat in the centre of the lake and unwrap our sandwiches. It is beautiful and sunny and warm. After our picnic, Mike jumps into the water while the dog looks on nervously, whining a little when Mike periodically swims beneath the surface.

This is absolutely wonderful. Jon would love this. For a moment, I feel guilty. Having fun on Jon’s birthday. This has not been an uncommon feeling over the years. Sitting there, bobbing out in the lake, I think that if Jon had not died, if he was visiting us from California right now, he’d be soaking up the sun with us, diving off the bow, laughing at his own jokes, loving this, and appreciating every moment. He loved life, and loved having fun.

And so, maybe it’s the fact I survived my cancer. Maybe it’s living with a little less certainty about the future or living with physical pain. Regardless, after about twenty of Jon’s birthdays without Jon, I realize, I mean really realize that this is part of the deal. The deal of missing someone who loved life so much. It does Jon a disservice- a true disservice- not to enjoy my own. By enjoying my life, I honour his.

Mike climbs back into the boat and we spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the lake, talking and laughing. It’s a glorious day. A bittersweet day. And between my parents, my husband, and the memory of my brother, it’s also a love-filled day.

And, yes, Jon. I had fun today. A blast, in fact. You’d be proud.