Milestone party affirms healing power of love

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

The shock lasted for days. I was so surprised I think I damaged brain cells.

I thought I was going out for a quiet family birthday dinner. I never dreamed that 47 people would be awaiting my arrival.

I had wondered why my girlfriends were so evasive about making plans for my birthday. I was turning 50 and wanted to schedule time with special people in my life.

But an 80th birthday celebration trumped my 50th, sports schedules outranked mine and my well-meaning but slightly disorganized sister would not make airline reservations confirming her promised birthday visit.

I had no plans, and it was driving me nuts.

“What’s planned is possible,” my father always advised. And for me, those words became my signature living style, especially when paralysis interrupted my Plan A life 11 years ago.

As a reluctant Plan B participant, I’ve learned to keep my calendar full and my in-box piled high. Plans and projects kept me moving forward, especially during times laden with poignant memories.

Often we feel loss the most when our memories are the clearest, I’ve learned. So I run a heavy schedule through holidays and special occasions.

But no one would commit to plans for this milestone.

So I made my own.

I scheduled time with my son to bake my own birthday cake, my favorite — red velvet. And, ironically, my only firm plans were with my ex-husband and his wife, who had invited me out for a birthday dinner. I asked my daughter to fly home from college to join us, but she had plans to visit her boyfriend. Trumped again.

So I focused on what I had instead of what I was missing and prepared for a good evening. I had worked hard over the last 10 years to create a workable rapport with my ex-husband and his wife and was proud of the good relationships we maintain. I enjoy spending time with them and looked forward to a quiet evening of fine dining and good conversation.

But it wasn’t always that easy.

Divorce is difficult. But divorce with children can be disastrous if the parents don’t commit to the best interests of the child. Too often I see adults revert to their middle-school mindsets, in which undeveloped frontal lobes prevent good judgment and rational thinking. Selfish behaviors and harsh words often rule and sometimes ruin the child’s ability to love and be loved.

Fractured families can be a tricky place to create stability when life is constantly recalibrated based on separate but connected lives. Remarriage can often be a painful process where new personalities and roles are introduced into an already-unstable situation.

But the kids remain. And so does their need for sustaining love that goes beyond the boundaries of divorce.

Life after divorce became easier when I accepted the new reality and kept focused on the good things that remained. Building bridges of communication rather than maintaining walls of anger kept me focused on the future, not stuck in the past.

When I arrived for my birthday dinner, forty-seven voices yelled, “Surprise!”

Stunned with disbelief, I nearly tumbled out of my wheelchair.

My sister greeted me first, then my daughter and her boyfriend. My North Carolina college buddies had driven in and one friend had flown in from London. Fabulous hors d’oeuvres, a five-course sit-down dinner and a D.J. with 70’s music awaited. The grand finale: One huge red velvet cake!

What a night to remember — given to me by my ex-husband and his amazing wife. They, too, must believe in the powerful art of planning.

More importantly, they showed the most powerful and sustaining gift of love and its creative expression beyond the boundaries of divorce.