Andrea Remke could have spent her late husband’s birthday curled up in bed, crying her eyes out. But she’s a mom. So she didn’t.

Andrea Remke

Andrea, who blogs at Kentucky Mom to Twins and More, says there were always signs showing her that she and husband Matthew were meant to be together. They attended the same college system, went to the same parties and events, but didn’t meet until right before graduation. Then there was the time they were in a horrific accident that totaled their car, but left them unscathed. Andrea told Dearly that after that night:

“I kept telling him over and over that he and I were just meant to be here together in this life for a reason — I wasn’t sure what way or how or why.”

For 15 years, they navigated the ups and downs of marriage and kids. They even went to counseling to keep their family strong. Then just as “we started being kind of ok,” Matthew was diagnosed with cancer.

Andrea says she doesn’t know why her husband got cancer and isn’t sure she’ll ever know. But after struggling against the disease, Matthew died at the age of 41, leaving behind his wife and four children.

For Andrea, the months since he passed have been full of painful anniversaries. As she told Dearly:

“I’m the type of person who remembers everything. Every date, every anniversary, every detail of everything in our lives. So after he died, living every day, especially the days that meant something to (me) us was like re-opening a terrible wound and having salt — even salt is too weak a metaphor — like having acid poured into it.”

Only a month after Matthew’s death was the anniversary of their engagement. And then, a few weeks ago, it was Andrea’s birthday, an inadvertent reminder of how for the past 20 years, her husband had “showered me with love” on that day, even when they were going through tough times.

Given that history, Andrea knew that facing Matthew’s birthday — the first since he passed — was going to be especially difficult. She told Dearly, “If I had my way, I would have just laid in bed mulling over pictures of him and crying.” But Andrea also has four young children. And that changes everything:

“When you are a mom to four little people whose life experiences, emotions, memories are intertwined with every single thing you do — you just can’t. There is no other option than to carry on for them. Even when that means stifling cries at the cemetery when they release birthday balloons to heaven. Even when it means not crumbling into a pile on the floor when your 5-year-old tells you she misses daddy’s chocolate chip cookies.”

As Andrea posted on Facebook, she didn’t spend the day crying in bed. Instead, they started the day making birthday cards to send to heaven, with sentiments like “Dear Daddy, I hope you have a good heaven birthday. Love you.”

They went to Matthew’s grave to release balloons and sing happy birthday. And they dedicated the day to doing everything that her husband loved to do. She wrote:

So after leaving the cemetery later on, we’re going across the street to his favorite family-owned restaurant, where they serve big steaks and smoked ribs. They have a couple of his favorite bourbons in there, too. They make kiddie cocktails with cherries in them and they wipe the crumbs from your table between courses. We decide we better warn them we are big crumb-makers.

[…]

Above all else, there was one thing your daddy loved to do, I tell them. Daddy loved snuggling his kids. Whether it was taking a nap on the couch together, reading a book or letting the girls brush and put barrettes in his hair while being forced to watch a Disney movie, this was his number one thing to do. There was no place he’d rather be than cozy under a blanket with his kids any day.

Andrea made it clear to the children they weren’t going to be sad on Matthew’s birthday. They were going to toast him and celebrate him and who he was.

Andrea Remke

But that doesn’t mean it was easy for her. As she told Dearly:

“When you have kids, you muster up strength that you didn’t know you had to keep going for them. We made daddy’s favorite cookies that day. We got a car wash where he was a regular customer. We ate dinner at his favorite restaurant. We laughed and we snuggled on the couch, just like daddy if he were here.”

Even if she wasn’t in the mood to celebrate, Andrea understood why it was important to do it for her children. As she told Dearly, this is one of the ways she helps their children know the father they lost:

“Since my kids are young — all under age 10, I don’t know how much they will remember of who their father was. He was sick for the past couple years and not himself. But I want them to know him and love who he was, and that’s why we did these things on his birthday.”

For twenty years, January meant that Matthew would tease Andrea about how she’s a few weeks older than him. Now, she ruefully acknowledges that he was right — he will forever be 41. But she has a promise to keep, and his birthday celebration was part of it. She told Dearly:

“I told my husband weeks before he died that I didn’t know what kind of parent I could be without him. I probably would make horrible mistakes and likely be the worst mother ever. But I promised him that I would forever tell our children how much he loved them and that he didn’t want to leave them. I will work my entire life making sure they know that.”

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