My dad would have turned 85 on Monday. It’s been several years now since his death, and the milestones are starting to become less likely to imagine.
My father has one sister who has lived into her 80s, but most of his family died in their 70s or younger. His immediate family survived the brutalities of WWII so they’re a hardy bunch for sure. Dad made it to 79, and was just 4 months shy of his 80th birthday.
But it’s difficult to imagine my dad at 85. A smoker since his teens, who was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema, those conditions would likely have taken a great toll on him by now, and perhaps he’d be tied to an oxygen machine. He definitely would have hated that. And would he have become so frail as to need a wheelchair? That’s another thing he would’ve loathed. The man loved to walk in a long, fast, striding gait. This was a major problem when he developed dementia, because of his tendency to wander.
So all in all, I’m at peace with the fact that Dad’s not around to be an octogenarian. If I’ve learned anything over the last several years, life isn’t about reaching a certain age but the quality of your day-to-day living.
Since Dad’s birthday is close to Easter this year, I thought it was appropriate to include the one Easter photo I have of us together.
Friday was my 39th birthday. This year I have a lot to be grateful for, compared to the grim circumstances of my last birthday. Mom was just 11 days out of major surgery at this point last year and in a skilled nursing facility so she could learn how to walk again. She had a colostomy bag and there was no way to know if the cancer had been successfully removed at that point. I visited her at the nursing home and she labored in writing me a birthday note. I was touched by her effort, which I recorded in last year’s birthday post.
Mom has come a long way in the last year. Things are almost back to “normal” whatever that is. Of course, Dad is and always will be the missing piece of that puzzle. As I’ve written before, the long-standing tradition was for my parents to sing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone, since I usually was not with them for my birthday. They would practice and Dad loved the chance to break out his Bing Crosby impersonation. Last year, things were so crazy that I didn’t even think about the birthday serenade.
This year, Mom was ready for her solo performance. But as she began she was clearly choked up. It took me a moment to understand why and then I knew she was missing Dad as her duet partner. But she got through it and did the big dramatic ending that she used to do with Dad. It made me smile and tear up at the same time.
At some point after losing someone close to you, you adjust for the most part to a “new normal” in your day-to-day living. It’s in these small, rare special moments that the loss hurts the heart the most.
My dad would have turned 80 years old today. It would have been nice if he could have reached that milestone, but not with Alzheimer’s.
He spent his last birthday at the assisted living facility. The staff bought him a McDonald’s meal as a birthday treat. My mom had visited him shortly before his birthday and I called from Atlanta. I have never felt so dishonest as when I mustered up whatever cheeriness I could find in my voice to wish him a happy birthday.
I knew there was no way that it would be a happy day for him. By his 79th birthday, Dad’s dementia, along with the increased medication being fed to him at the care center, had left him an emotionless shell. He wasn’t necessarily sad or angry; he just didn’t seem to be feeling anything at all.
But I always felt that there was this lingering despair that my dad somehow was clinging to, that somewhere deep below the fog of Alzheimer’s, he was aware of his condition and how hopeless his future was.
I hope I was wrong.
Even when he was well, Dad never made a fuss about his birthday. A card, a small gift like cologne and dinner was about all he wanted. I think birthdays in his mind put him closer to death, which he always feared, so he approached the day with trepidation, instead of a spirit of celebration.