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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Bentley

The 21st First - You Say It's Her Birthday

Yes, I know there is a HUGE gap in Firsts -don't worry, the gap will be filled in.

This entry is somewhat of a combination of a First and a Grief Gab. There may be some things I write that will be difficult for family members to read. I apologize for that in advance.

Today would have been Joni's 45th birthday. As with many of these posts, I have been thinking about her birthday last year. Before I get into that, I have to share something sweet that just came to mind: most years I would give her a kiss on the cheek while she was sleeping and gently say "Happy Birthday" before heading off to work. I'm going to miss that.

Every year on our birthdays, she and I always posted Happy Birthday messages to each other on Facebook. We would praise each other for what awesome people we were and professed our love. My Facebook post from that day reads:

"Today celebrates another trip around the sun for my wonderful wife, Joni She is my hero. My She-Ra, my Wonder Wife, my gift from God. Joni means “God is gracious” and He was gracious to give me such an incredible woman.

Joni, I would steal the Arkenstone, go into the fires of Mordor, lead Dragon army in the battle room, lead a resistance against the robopocalypse, take on Casanova Frankenstein, fight vermin, tame a sha’um, search for a roll-top desk at the bottom of a lake, and take the red pill all for you. Happy Birthday, my love!"

The references in the 2nd paragraph are all references to things that Joni and I loved and connected over. In order of appearance: The Hobbit/The Silmarillion, Lord of the Rings, Ender's Game, Robopocalypse, Mystery Men, a common RPG trope, The Gandalara Cycle (book), O' Brother Where Art Thou, and The Matrix.

On December 17th, 2018 our dear friend (and Joni's female best friend), MaryEllen Oliver, was staying with us because she wanted to see her best friend and spend time with her. I had been actively looking for work for several months and ended up being scheduled for an at Amazon. Of course I checked with Joni before I said yes and she happily reassured me that she would be fine. On the day of the interview, MaryEllen reassured me that she would be fine staying with my wife. And in a way I think I was checking with her to make sure there was no judgement on me for going.

As I've reflected in other entries, I just had no idea how sick Joni really was. She really was my Wonder Wife - she battled through her pain and her illness with such strength and grace. I don't know that I could have done the same if our places had been reversed. She was so tired all the time. She would wake up, take some meds, get on her phone for awhile, come out to the couch for a bit, then fall asleep on the couch. She hated being in her room alone - she wanted to be where the family was.

I feel terrible that I don't remember the specifics of what we did for her celebration beyond getting Thai food (one of her favorites). I asked MaryEllen to help me fill in the gaps because I only vaguely remembered that we even had Thai food. So thanks to Mel for reminding me that I got Joni the Ancenstry[dot]com DNA test. She had wanted it for a long time and it suddenly became very important to me for her to take it so we could get the test results back before Christmas…or at least before she passed.

Because of our meeting with the doctor in which she said she wanted to at least make it to Christmas, I think I beginning to believe that we didn't have more than a couple months. Initially she said she wanted to make it to Ember's 13th birthday but, as the chemo gradually worked less and less, we had to adjust our hopes and expectations. I wanted her to be able to get the results of the DNA back so she could finally know. She was so curious about ancestry, culture, and heritage.

We didn't get to it before Christmas, but I still tried. I brought the vial to the hospital a couple times. I even asked her sister (Rebecca) to hold onto the vial in case Joni was able to spit while I wasn't there. But Joni was too tired or her mouth was too dry. To make up for it, I had Ancestry replace the kit and send the new one to her sister, Rebecca.

Joni's parents got her this great mouse nativity set. She had a great collection of unique nativity sets, and we set them up this year in her honor. I fully expected to cry but, instead of sobbing uncontrollably, we put them out with smiles and only slightly-moist eyes.

I'm smiling right now as I remember this little song we would sing in high-pitched voices when we got gifts for each other that we were excited about. It was kind of the same cadence and tune from that excellent childhood playground traditional: "neener neener neener". That and "I ain't getting' nothin' for Christmas". It went: "I know what you're getting' for birf-day." (This was also sung at Christmas time, by the way.)

Tonight we are honoring Joni in three ways - all things I know she would love:

  1. We're having her favorite meal: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy (hopefully), and some veggies.

  2. We're delivering cookie plates to our neighbors. We've been working the last two days to make six different treats so we can bless our neighbors with a Christmas treat plate and a card. Joni was an excellent cook/baker and loved to make treats for others.

  3. We're starting our annual reading of A Christmas Carol. She loved to listen to me read. I timed it out so that if we read 20 minutes a night, we can finish with Stave 5 on Christmas morning.

And so, here's a little letter to her. A "post" for her on her birthday, if you will:

Joni, my love - happy birthday! We miss you terribly. Your friends and family feel the hole left by your absence in our lives. The world was a richer place with you in it and will be a better place. You always wanted to make a difference and have an impact. And you did it!

We are sad because, even though we have wonderful memories with you, we all want to make more memories with you. You were the light of my life. You made me want to be a better man - the man you deserved. I like to think that we succeeded in meeting that goal. Thank you for being a part of forging me into who I am. Please know that there are others that God has placed in my life and the family's life that are trustworthy smiths at the forges of our hearts.

And even though we miss you and would prefer you back in our lives, we are so glad you aren't suffering anymore and that you are with the Lord. Some of us are also a little jealous that you get to hang out with some of the great "cloud of witnesses" that we love and admire. (Say hi to Charles Dickens, JRR Tolkien, and CS Lewis for me.)

I will do my best to continue to live as you demonstrated: taking one day at a time; making the most of every moment together; trying new things; being curious about life and the world around us; following sincerely after God even when it hurts and we want answers; and being willing to assess things fairly (especially myself) and changing my perspective, attitudes, and behaviors accordingly. Always asking myself WWJD? (What would Joni do?)

I still love you madly.

Your bestie forever, Joshua


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