The Best Birthday Ever… 

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.  

My sister, Dad, Mom and me


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.  

Mom circa 2002 four years before cancer disgnosis

Setting Some Goals – Getting Focused

With my 45th birthday today, I’ve been in a self-reflective mood all week.  Before, birthdays were fun occasions to celebrate and have cake or dinner out and get a few presents.  When you’re a kid or under forty, birthdays are different than they are once you cross the 40 threshold.  They start becoming reasons to start reflecting on your life, what you have accomplished, what you haven’t accomplished, what you might want to accomplish.  At least for me, but I noticed a trend in my friends thinking this way as well.  You have to face the fact that your life is likely to be half over or right at that point.  It starts to feel like you really need to get serious about what you want out of life, your goals and your dreams.

Most likely you have had to deal with the failing health of a grandparent or parent, maybe even losing them.  For me, I no longer have parents or grandparents.  Actually, this is my first birthday without my mom here to celebrate it with.  Seems odd that the person who gave birth to you will no longer be part of your birthday.  Takes away some of the joy of the day.  Personally, I’m not looking forward to my birthday just for that reason alone.  I’m not particularly one to freak out about getting older or that hides my age.  Most people guess me younger, some days I feel older, it all ebbs and flows as moods do.  Some days I look in the mirror and think hey, I don’t look bad.  Other days, I look into the mirror and think OMG a truck ran me over, I look like hell even though I probably don’t look any different than the day before when I felt good about myself.

But that aside, in my reflection I realized that I have a tendency to go through the motions and not really think about goals in my life.  Honestly, for the most part, I’m pretty content in my life so maybe I don’t set goals because there isn’t anything pressing.  I don’t hate my job and feel I need a new one (okay there are days when I do but not many).  I like my house and we’ve long decided that moving into a new house with a payment four times what ours is today isn’t our best financial move.  I am happy in my marriage, it took two strikes but I finally hit a home run.  My kids are doing well and don’t need me every second of the day.  And my role as caretaker has been unnecessary for about a year.  Outside of my cycling goal last year which I didn’t take seriously until early July, that has been the first time in years I’ve focused on accomplishing something that I had really put forth.  And for the first few months I just vaguely paid attention to the goal.  Actually, I’m not very good at focusing on things for myself as a rule.  Having kids, getting married and taking care of parents, you forget how to focus on something for yourself.

When you are younger, all you do is think about yourself.  What you like, don’t like, what pisses you off, what makes you happy.  Almost everything revolves around you.  Then you have a family, become an adult and it seems to go the complete opposite way, or it did for me.  If someone asked me what I liked, I couldn’t honestly say.  But I could tell you what my kids liked.  I think it’s a normal progression of life.  So now I’m back to the point where I can focus on myself and my life more fully.  So what do I want?

1.  Focus on my writing and take it more seriously.  I have a tendency to brush it off and put it aside.  I’m never going t get published on a larger scale if I don’t start focusing on my passion.  It may not be a job and I may not get famous and make a lot of money but it is important to me.  Every time I think about what do I want out of life, I want to be a writer.  I want to write the great American Love story but modern and realistic.  Not this fluffy crap that isn’t real.  Where the hero is a rich supermodel looking man and the heroine is helpless and needs him to save her (rolling eyes as I even type that).  I want to write something that could actually happen to any of us normal folks.

2. Eat better, lose weight – so I can ride faster and longer and do more things in life.  I have the exercise portion of it down though winter is tough.  But I eat too much sugar and too much crap.  Cut the crap.  Simple enough.  I want to be fit and strong.  I don’t care what I weigh really or what size I am, just as long as I’m healthy and in great shape.  The only reason I want to lose weight is because being lighter on my bike means I can up my average speeds and probably my distances.

3. Cycling goals.  I’ve covered this in another post.  1500 miles + for the season and ride a couple of events.  Metric century possibly.

4. Don’t be afraid to focus on myself.  Not that I become a selfish B but not be afraid to do what makes me happy either.

5. Love even more.  My friends, my family, my husband, perfect strangers, pets, life.  Pretty self-explanatory.

I always stop at ‘5’ as it seems that if I go past that number, I overwhelm myself.  I liked having the cycling goal last year.  I loved pushing myself toward something.  It had been so long since I had challenged myself to do anything.  I’ve already made a list of places and trails I want to hike and maybe that should part of my cycling goal, revise it to say fitness or something.  Goals are a bit exciting because they direct your focus, they give you something to work toward and accomplishing them feels great.  I like to break my goals down into smaller steps/goals.  Then I have little accomplishments along the way.  Because it really is about the journey not just the destination.