So today, I turn 41. Can you tell I’m not very enthusiastic about my birthday?
It’s not that I hate getting older, although turning 40 last year did make me feel suddenly so much older. In fact, this past year has been very challenging, but today, one year since I turned 40, I feel like I’m in a much better place.
Do you see that smiling man holding me on his lap? That’s my Uncle Rudy. He was also born on December 6th and when I was younger, we often celebrated our birthday’s together. He was a really awesome guy. He had the best sense of humour. I still remember his laugh. And he was always there to listen to me when I was a bratty little kid. He will always have a special place in my heart. And I know his two kids miss him even more than I do.
In 1992, he was diagnosed with cancer. Long story short, he died in March 1993.
Cancer is an awful disease and chemotherapy doesn’t make it any prettier.
On December 6, 1992, my parents and I drove through the blustery snow to visit Uncle Rudy in his home. It was the last visit I ever had with him. I had picked out a birthday card just for him because I wanted him to know how much he meant to me and how I hated to see him suffer so much.
But I chickened out. I didn’t give him the card. I brought it home and packed it away. I can’t really tell you why I didn’t give it to him. Perhaps knowing how he would say, “Thanks, Ang,” and give me a hug was too much for me.
To cry in front of someone who’s going through a much harder time than you are isn’t cool.
Not when you’re barely 17 years old.
Two years later, my Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was the end of August and I was about to start my second year of University. She insisted I continue on with my post-secondary schooling because education was very important to her. I obediently packed up and moved, leaving my Mom two hours away.
That December 6th, I turned 20 years old and I got my very last birthday card signed by my Mom. I dearly wish I still had it. I don’t even remember what she/my parents got me. It was the thought that I was 20 years old and my Mom was dying that overshadowed the entire day.
Last year when I turned 40, one of the reasons why I wanted to have absolutely no celebration at all for my birthday was because it also marked the fact that I had lived half of my life without my Mom. While other people around me got to complain about how annoying their mom’s were, I was silently wishing that my Mom was alive to annoy me and see my annoying kids.
That’s what gets me. That she didn’t get to see my children. I know how much she would have loved to see her five grandchildren, just as Uncle Rudy would have adored his three beautiful granddaughters.
But life moves on whether we want it to or not.
I remember how, after my Mom died, I couldn’t stand to see the days move on like normal. Why didn’t time stop? The more time that past, the farther I was away from the last day I got to spend with my Mom. I spent months trying to avoid the pain I felt. An entire year, in fact.
Then one day, it was the one year anniversary of her death and I grieved all over again. Not only for my Mom, but also for some of the choices I had made that year. My Mom would have been disappointed in me, so I got my shit together. I had to stop the pity party. I sucked it up and started behaving like the adult I almost was. I know we all have to grow up and accept responsibility at some point, but I didn’t want to when I was “only” 20.
I wanted to live a carefree life that wasn’t burdened by grief.
What I wouldn’t give to have one phone call from my Mom on my birthday. It’s not like she’s in prison. God could arrange a little chat between her and I if He so chose. But I know it’s not going to happen.
So instead, on my birthday, I spend time grieving. I miss my Uncle. I cry because my Mom’s not here to drive me crazy. I also remember the Montreal Massacre that happened on this day in 1989.
December 6th isn’t the happiest day for me. But that doesn’t matter. I’m an adult and I gotta just suck it up. But in order to make this day a little easier for me, I downplay my birthday. I don’t let my Facebook friends know it’s my birthday. And I don’t go announcing it for everyone to give me my dues. Some of my closest friends and relatives send me private messages and cards, and I love them for it. Those are the meaningful birthday wishes and I cherish each one of them as I spend the day reflecting on the fragility of life.
To me, December 6th is a day of mourning and joy. Thank God I get to see my family members again. That’s what gets me through this day.
But really, I’m happy when December 6th has passed and I can once again focus on Christmas.