Here I am, out the other side – I’m fifty now.
My birthday came and went on the 14th, and I had mixed feelings about it. I think some of my friends and family interpreted my reluctance to have a birthday as a reluctance to turn fifty… wondering if I minded the age, didn’t like getting older… something like that. It wasn’t that at all – I don’t mind a bit. So far, my experience is that being thirty was better than being twenty, that being forty was better than being thirty, and I expect that fifty is going to be pretty good too. (Exception noted for some of my body parts, which I rather suspect enjoyed the earlier phases more. I’m talking to you, left knee. Get it together.)
When Tupper died five years ago – five years ago yesterday, to be precise, Mum didn’t want to celebrate her birthday anymore. It was like she didn’t have enough happy in her for celebrations, and she said that if he couldn’t have any more birthdays, she didn’t want one either. At the time, her choice upset me. It upset all of us, I think. It was plain to me that something had changed in my Mum with Tupp’s death. I worried that she was never, ever going to be as happy as she had been before- that his death had been too hard, too traumatic, too shocking and too sad. To be entirely frank, I worried she was a tiny bit broken, just in the happiness department. Not wanting to celebrate birthdays was a symptom of that, and it made me sad too. Mum didn’t survive her brother by long enough for me to know if that was really true. She remained my funny Mum, my essentially happy Mum, with a little bruised piece that hadn’t had time to heal, if it was going to.
When Mum died, after Tupper, and before Susan, I thought about my birthday and I got it. All of a sudden I got the whole thing. If they couldn’t come to my party I didn’t want a party. If I couldn’t blow out candles with Mum I didn’t want candles. After Mum, it was totally and completely clear to me why she wanted to cancel birthdays after Tupp and I decided to do the same, and felt such a clear understanding of my mother in that moment.
As time went on, and we got closer and closer to My Birthday (close enough that I started thinking of it with capital letters) I started thinking about it more, and I remembered how I felt as her child, seeing my Mum so sad. I remembered worrying about her and wishing she would let us celebrate her. “But you’re still here… ” I would think, every time she said that Tupper was not, and that parties were cancelled for the indefinite future. I especially thought about it every time that one of my daughters mentioned a party to me, and I remembered in the hospital, shortly before Susan’s death, her having a bit of a cry, and telling me that she was so sorry that the person who cared most about me turning 50 was gone. She talked about my mum’s plan for that day, how much my mother would regret not being there… she said she was sorry that she couldn’t make up for Mum, but that she thought she wasn’t going to make it either. She was right about that, of course, but she was wrong about people not caring. My girls, I realized, as I thought about it, were feeling as I had. I suddenly saw it in their gentleness with me, their new tenderness, their careful questions and sweet little attentions.
I was scaring them. They thought I might be broken too. The pain I had felt watching my mother grieve I now saw in them, and I resolved immediately to show them to that my ability to be happy wasn’t gone… or at least not permanently. That I had a chance to reassure them here – and as hard as it was, I said yes, to it all.
Family dinner on my birthday? Yes. Big party on the weekend? Yes.
I cried often and mostly alone (I try to be polite) over those few days. At times, I missed my mother in a way that was physically painful – but I took deep breaths. I bought a new dress. (I shopped for it with my girls via text/photo group, and that was really fun.) I put on a pair of my Mum’s shoes (god she had great shoes) and I went to the parties and I smiled at my girls and I am so pleased to report that they were right, and for the first time in history possibly, taking my Mum’s advice would have been wrong, because man, as painful as it was, there were moments of sweetness and happiness that I’d have been so foolish to miss. The girls were so good, and they worked so hard, and I was so impressed with them, and I think my girls see that I’m not broken, just different, and that’s okay, and that maybe I can put some faith in that too.
(PS. I’ll do the first big round of Karmic Balancing gifts this weekend, see previous post, and thanks for everything, you’re awesome.)