The other day I was going through some of my saved emails and I found a Lowe’s e-gift card that had been sent to me on my 44th birthday in 2014 by my mother. I opened up the email and it displays the “gift card” with her message. The message said:
“wISHING YOU THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER. LOVE YOU. MOM”
Yes she had written it in all caps on her iPad while sitting in her hospital bed with just one month and five days of her life left. She was on heavy pain killers, couldn’t walk by herself any longer and needed 24/7 care but she still insisted on doing everything she possibly could by herself until the end. That was just my mom, independent and head strong and a hella stubborn woman.
I can’t tell you what I used the gift card for anymore but I remembered I printed out two copies of it. One to use at the store and one to save in my keepsake box. Because it was the last birthday I would celebrate with my mother. I remember feeling incredibly sad when I presented the cashier the card because it felt as if I was losing another little peice of my relationship with my mother. As if I could hold onto that gift card, that it was keeping her a little bit alive. Keeping her love for me alive but it really doesn’t work that way.
Now it’s two and a half years later, my life has adjusted to not having my mom around. Not that you really ever want to adjust to the loss of someone you love but it happens over time. You still feel their absence every day but it is not as acute. There are times you want to hug them, sit and talk to them and instead you end up talking out loud to yourself hoping that they will hear you, that they know. Sometimes I wrap the yellow, ivory and brown crocheted afghan she made me around my shoulders and look at all the stitches to remind myself that she made each one of them out of love for me. Or put on her worn red Ohio State pullover that I now wash with the care of my most delicate clothing item so it lasts for years and years.
I sometimes look at pictures, or put on a peice of her jewelry I gave her to feel closer. I don’t care what anyone says, she may still be with me in spirit, but it sure does suck not having her here in person. Especially last week when I finally got a promotion she thought I deserved years ago but didn’t live long enough to see it. No it wasn’t any big new title or a bunch of new responsibilities and money. Simply it was just the next level in my current job position which I have been doing since 2006. She retired from where I work in 2010. Moments like that are stark reminders that she is absent from my day to day life making that accomplishment just a little bittersweet.
Back to the gift card and my 44th birthday. I reread her words several times. And I realized that it had indeed been a difficult birthday. My daughters, my husband and I all have birthdays in the same month so after my birthday, I bought a lemon cream cake from Olive Garden because this is what she wanted and we had a little joint birthday party with her in her hospital room. We shared the leftover cake with the nurses who were giving her really great care. And I don’t think one of us has eaten that cake since.
On my actual birthday, she had employed my middle daughter who had quit working and school to take care of her, to be her legs and get me a card, a potted mini rose and my other gift. As she laid heavily medicated in her bed, I opened the gift which was my grandmother’s wedding rings. Of course I started crying and hugged her frail frame tightly. Simply this was my hardest birthday ever. My last one. There was no doubt that she would not be alive for my 45th birthday. But looking back it was also my best birthday just like she had wished me in the E-gift card. I can’t look back on any of my birthdays and pick out a more memorable one.
Birthdays in my family have always been fairly quiet occasions. Sometimes family would come for dinner and cake when I was kid depending on where we lived. There were no big parties like I did for my daughters though in today’s standards, their parties would be quite simple. A few friends over for games, cake and balloons. Later they would have sleepovers and in their teen years even bigger sleepovers. Usually I didn’t have the space or the money to give them a big party. Their birthdays being in the winter, it was hard to have a lot of kids at our house, cooped up in its cramped spaces. We never do surprise parties either. I don’t like surprises so that has never been an option.
Keeping to tradition, my 44th birthday was a quiet affair celebrated with family. Except it was celebrated with two of my daughters absent for school or work and at my mom’s hospital bedside. It sounds bleak but really it will be the one birthday I always remember. I will remember the presents because they are etched into my memory. I will remember my mom’s smile as I opened my grandmother’s wedding rings. Simply there was nothing more meaningful she could have given me and she knew it. I am sure she knew just as I did, this was our last birthday together.
Dying of cancer sucks. Knowing you are going to die has to suck even more. A close friend of mine and I have both lost parents to long battles with cancer and we have decided that our preferred way of dying is to dimply drop dead of old age. No warning, nothing. Though it is a shock to your family, you don’t go through those agonizing days of wondering how long you have together. Or wondering how much time you have. Or the pain, the helplessness. It is agonizing for everyone, especially the person dying of cancer.
Out of the suffering, the nightmare of pain and sadness, there are some of the most beuatiful moments borne of reality of the fact that we are indeed mortal. None of us lives forever and death is a slap in the face reminder that you need to cherish every moment of every day no matter how mundane that moment feels. That you need to put your head up and look beyond the routine for ways to show love and e kind to others, to enjoy another precious moment with someone you love even if it is as simple as sending a text message to them reminding them you love them. We only have so many moments. The only guarantee in life is death.
No my best birthday ever wasn’t spent on a Carribean Cruise or in a five-star hotel. It was spent with my mother in a dull hospital room. What I wouldn’t give for 44 more birthdays together but that is not how life works so I cherish the memories of the ones I did have knowing I was fortunate to have all those years with her.