Have you ever had a party and one of your guests hung around too long? Or worse yet, have you ever had a party and someone you had not invited or wanted to attend showed up? Maybe this is a bad analogy, but this week was my birthday, and I was reminded about when something like this happened to me.
Every year, even after I became an adult, my mother would invariably start asking me sometime in January, “Nancy, when would you like to celebrate your birthday this year?”
Next to Christmas, family birthdays came next in the important occasions to celebrate category for my mother. Most years I invariably traveled home to my parents’ house to celebrate mine. I’m sure there were a few years when traveling in February was quite hazardous, but usually I managed to make it sometime around my birthday.
February 1, 2004 was no different except for the fact my parents were the ones traveling to my house that day to celebrate my forty-somethingish birthday. They didn’t come. Instead, my mother called me early that morning to tell me she had discovered a lump in her breast. That was the beginning of her cancer experience and therefore the beginning of mine as well.
The uninvited “guest” to my birthday party had arrived. I didn’t know it at the time, but that “guest” was here to stay.
It seems ironic that cancer slithered into my mother’s life, and therefore into mine, on my birthday. I have often thought about this, irrationally concluding cancer was trying to make some kind of statement to me back then and I just didn’t hear it. Maybe it was an omen and I missed it. Maybe it was a wake up call and I didn’t pay attention.
Of course such thoughts are ridiculous, but cancer creates conditions in the mind making it ripe for ridiculous thoughts to formulate and grow. Just ask anyone you know who has been diagnosed with cancer. They will undoubtedly agree, cancer messes with the mind, at least some of the time.
Cancer cannot plot against us. I did not have a crystal ball allowing me to look into my future. And even if I had, would I have wanted to look? Would I have wanted to know what was in store for me a few years down the road? Probably not.
Another thing that sticks in my mind about that particular birthday, is hearing my mother say to me, “Nancy, I’m so sorry you will have to remember this every year on your birthday from now on.”
Mothers like to fix things, not be the source of unsolvable problems. She felt guilty my birthday was forever tarnished, and in her eyes, she had been the one to tarnish it.
Well, I do think about that birthday every year now. I think about the uninvited
guest intruder that showed up and never went away. I think about a lot of things. How could I not?
You might think remembering all this stuff only makes me sad, but you’d be wrong. Remembering that birthday in some ways makes me feel even more connected to my mother. Remembering all the birthdays I celebrated through the years, mine and those of other family members as well, makes me feel really good. We got to do a lot of celebrating together. Not everybody gets to do that.
This year, even more than other years, I am delighted (well, okay delighted is a stretch, but you get my point) to be getting older. I look forward to more birthdays. Each one will present me with the opportunity to embrace another new year, hopefully rich with more celebrations.
That uninvited intruder is still lurking around, but I push it away from my ‘party’ every chance I get.
Here’s to birthdays and lots of them.