April 17th was my birthday, the big 4-oh. Throughout the day, people asked if I felt any different now that I was 40 and throughout the day, my answer was "no, not really."
Sadly, that changed at 10:15 PM as I sat by my grandmother's bedside, holding Babci's hand as she passed away. Alone with Babci in her room, her thin hand resting in mine, I suddenly realized that she was no longer really there with me. It was stunning in its ordinariness. When someone with as rich and full a life as she packed into her 93 years dies, you almost expect something dramatic to occur, that there be a marker for the moment. But not tonight. Babci simply took a few final breaths and then departed quietly, with no fuss.
I was so lucky to have had her in my life for as long as I did. Most people don't get 40 years with their grandparents. But now that she won't be there to play cards with, to call me at work just to say hello, to try to slip a $5 bill into my hand with the instructions "go enjoy a nice steak", or to beam that megawatt smile she shared with so many people, there's an unmistakable void in my life.
Turning 40 isn't supposed to be bittersweet and birthdays should be a time for joy. In time, the pain and loss and grief that are so sharp and immediate, so palpable and wrenching, will fade. Even so, I know I'll always feel the ache of that void every April 17th, even as I blow out an ever-increasing number of candles and endure the over-the-hill jokes. At least I know that Babci will be laughing along and enjoying the cake.