Today would have been Dad’s 89th birthday. This year will mark 10 years since his passing. It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by, and how much the world has changed in just a decade.
I’ve always loved this series of photo booth shots. I wasn’t an entirely cooperative model but Dad’s beaming smile makes up for it. Dad rarely smiled in photos as he was self-conscious about his teeth, so the wide smiles in these shots are extra precious. He was definitely a proud papa.
Birthdays are bittersweet for me now, as I have fond memories of my parents singing “Happy Birthday” to me across the miles each year. They would rehearse and make a big production out of it. Even as my father descended into the depths of dementia, he rallied for the birthday performance.
I’ve been fostering dogs for the last several months, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. It has been a rewarding and enriching experience. While I enjoy fostering, my eye (and heart) was always on the lookout for “the one.”
And now, as a birthday gift to myself, I am adopting my latest foster dog, Magee. He is a sweet rat terrier/fox terrier mix that has proven to be a good fit in my life. (The cats disagree, but I overruled them, haha.)
Like me, Magee is middle aged or so and has a few personality quirks, but is overall a dedicated and loyal companion. Unlike me, Magee overflows with happiness and dare I say … joy. Anyone who spends time with dogs know there is much we can learn and gain from them.
As we grow older, we learn that the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. I now have Magee to guide me on that exploration of everyday joy.
For me, July will forever be associated with birthdays. My mother’s birthday was July 6 and my birthday is July 19.
While birthdays should be filled with happy memories, ever since the death of my parents, I’m left with bittersweet memories. There’s a profound quote in the Netflix documentary, End Game, which is about end-of-life care and hospice, that touches upon what I’m feeling this week.
“Suffering is the wedge, the gap between the world you want and the world you got.”
Even though I didn’t spend my birthday with my parents as an adult, they always sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone. It was a fun tradition, and each year Mom would tell me how they practiced all week to make it special. My parents both had some musical talent, with Dad especially fond of singing in the style of his favorite crooner, Bing Crosby.
The year before my father was placed in the memory care center, my parents performed the best rendition ever of Happy Birthday. My dad was in high spirits that day, and even though he was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s by then, he hadn’t lost his ability to sing or to ham it up. He continued singing, performing a medley of classic show tunes before Mom was able to get the phone back from him. At the time I thought, “I wish I had recorded this!”
As my birthday approached the next year, I was visiting my parents and Mom and I made the trek to the memory care center to see Dad. He was mobile but heavily medicated. I didn’t expect any birthday singing, but Mom insisted. I was torn about recording it, but I knew in my heart that it would be my last birthday with my father alive. Little did I know then that my mother would be in a care center a year later recovering from cancer surgery.
Even though I knew it would be painful, I decided to record it. I’m glad I did, even though it is heartbreaking to watch. (I rarely share this video, but am making an exception here.)
As to the quote about suffering, what I wanted was the sublime Happy Birthday performance from the year before. What I got was my father, addled with medication and his brain ravaged by Alzheimer’s, trying his best to perform one final time, with my mother trying desperately to be upbeat.
Ultimately, both memories are gifts. They are both filled with love.
Sometimes I still can’t believe that my father outlived my mother. He was 79 when he died.
It’s also hard to believe sometimes that just two years ago, I was celebrating her last birthday alive with her. I’m glad I made the trip, it’s not something I always did, but at least I did it when it counted the most.
After I passed the year mark of my mom’s death, it felt like a veil lifted. I’m more at peace now and less bombarded by flashbacks of her death and final months.
Today I will try to remember the good things: my mother’s corny but infectious sense of humor, that southern accent she never lost, her generous and kind spirit.
How do you mark the birthdays of those who are gone?
Today is my birthday, and I have to say I don’t mind being a year older. At least it offers me a symbolic new start, as 40 was one of the most difficult years of my life.
I’m having a lovely time in the mountains, but there is of course one thing missing. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, my parents always made a big production out of singing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone.
I have a poor recording of Mom singing “Happy Birthday” to me last year, recorded from my cellphone. It’s only barely listenable, but I’m glad I have it.
I do have a good video and audio version of my parents singing “Happy Birthday” to me, but sadly, it was when Dad was rapidly declining in the care facility. The staff had him so drugged up that he could barely stay awake, and he mumbled through the song. Mom tried to compensate by being overly cheery, but I know her heart was breaking inside.
Just the year before, Dad belted out the best version ever, and even sang another classic crooner song. That is the recording I wish I had.
While I sometimes feel that in today’s world, people are so busy recording their lives to post on social media that they forget to be in the moment, the upside is that they will have all of the moments recorded to cherish later.
So my birthday wish is for everyone to experience and if so desired, record loving moments with their family. It truly is something we often take for granted, until the opportunities no longer exist.
Last year, Mom was still doing pretty well but the pain that would plague her for the rest of her life had already reared its ugly head. It was not yet the chronic, acute pain that would agonize her final months, but it was a sign that illness had rejoined the family.
I had a feeling this time last year that it would be my mom’s final birthday. At the time I feared the cancer had returned, but hoped it was just another hernia that could be surgically repaired.
My mom on her 77th birthday.
We never did get a confirmation as to whether or not the cancer had returned, thanks to a whole host of roadblocks, from my mother’s surgeon suddenly leaving town, to appointments with the new surgeon getting bumped, to bad winter weather forcing her to cancel appointments. None of the scans that she had performed repeatedly showed a tumor, but by the time a colonoscopy was ordered, she was too weak to have it done.
I’m glad for her last birthday on this earth that I was with her and was able to present her with the Chicken Soup for the Soul book that included my submission which was inspired by my mother. She loved it and read it aloud over and over.
Today I went to an energy healing session. It was a fascinating and insightful experience and I highly recommend it if you feel like you are emotionally overwhelmed or emotionally blocked in some way. I’m an open-minded skeptic when it comes to such things, but the insights provided gave me plenty of food for thought and self-improvement tips for the mind, spirit and body.
This Saturday, I turn 40. I’m not one to worry about wrinkles or grey hairs. My recent physical showed that I’m in good health for now.
But considering the health issues that have impacted my family over the last several years, I can’t help but worry.
It is somewhat ironic that if you had asked me before my parents became sick, I would have chosen Alzheimer’s and cancer as the diseases I dread most. Little did I know that I would have to face both diseases head-on, with dementia striking my dad and colon cancer striking my mom. I always figured Dad would get cancer, being a smoker since he was 16. Mom doesn’t smoke and eats a mainly vegetarian diet, and she gets colon cancer. Go figure.
With Mom’s health in the balance again, it’s not really feasible to make concrete plans for my 40th year, let alone the next decade of my life. But then again, if life has taught me anything over the last few years, it is to live in the here and now.
Still, there are a few wishes I have that I hope I can make come true over the next decade of my life.
I want to write a book. Whether it be memoir, fiction, or self-help, I’m not sure yet. Maybe one of each! I’ve lit my creative flame again over the last few years, but I know it will take hard work and focus to keep it glowing. And yes, I do want to publish the book, even if I have to go the self-publishing route. I plan on signing up for a writer’s workshop this fall.
I want to visit my father’s homeland, Ireland. I had planned on doing this in my 30s, or as a special gift on my 40th birthday, but alas, that is not going to happen. But I can still make it happen over the next few years. Making that family connection is important, and I think will hold greater meaning for me now than ever before.
I want to continue and expand my Alzheimer’s awareness work. In particular, I would like to do more hands-on advocacy work.
I’ve been through many life-changing events over the last decade, and I’m sure I will face more moments, both good and bad, over the next decade. My 40th birthday wish is that I approach these moments with a bit more wisdom, and much more compassion.
Today would have been my father’s 82nd birthday. He is so missed each and every day, but I am thankful that Alzheimer’s didn’t keep him trapped in a diseased world for any longer than it did.
But today is a reminder of why I have become an Alzheimer’s awareness advocate. I have become a more compassionate, aware person thanks to my father. To honor my father, and to help those who are going through the same thing with their own parents is now part of my life’s mission. I can no longer give my dad birthday gifts in this world, but trying to make a difference and battling the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s is a gift I will continue to give for the rest of my life.
I’ve posted this before, but I want to share again this montage of photos and my dad singing to me when I was a baby.
Today would have been Dad’s 81st birthday. I never expected my father to live that far into old age, as I always suspected his nearly lifelong smoking habit would catch up to him sooner rather than later. Despite being diagnosed with COPD and emphysema he never suffered the severe consequences of those diseases. He wasn’t one of those people who needed to carry an oxygen tank with him or who could not walk a few steps without getting out of breath. He remained in decent physical shape until the last few months of his life. It was the parts of his brain that stopped working properly that caused him the biggest health-related issues.
A visit with the ducks.
Today is a beautiful spring day where I live. Okay the pollen that has covered everything in town with a yellow dust isn’t so pretty but the experts claim that doesn’t cause the bad allergy reactions. I wasn’t going to let a little pollen stop me from honoring Dad’s birthday. I took a walk through the park, imagining how much Dad would have enjoyed such beautiful scenery. I visited the lake with the ducks and a pair came right up on the platform where I was for awhile before honking and taking off. I always enjoy seeing the ducks as it reminds me of happy childhood memories of visiting the park with my parents and feeding the ducks. And those honks made me think of Dad’s impersonations of Donald Duck that I loved so much as a little girl.
A Titanic souvenir.
Next I finally made it to the Titanic exhibit. I know Dad would have loved to see the old photographs and recovered items from the world’s most famous ship. You receive a boarding pass with a name of an actual Titanic passenger with your ticket. At the end of the exhibit you get to see if “your” passenger survived or perished. Sadly, my passenger was Mrs. Benjamin Peacock who perished along with her two small children. They were coming to America to join Mr. Peacock who had already arrived in the U.S. the year before and was awaiting their arrival in New Jersey. The whole family was supposed to travel together but the wife was ill at the time and so her husband went on ahead of the family until she was well enough to travel. Sadly, that coincided with the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
I’m going to wrap up the day with an Irish whiskey toast. Last year I had just started a new job so I didn’t have time to honor Dad’s 80th birthday properly. Today I felt Dad’s presence with me throughout the day and I’m glad I was able to mark Dad’s birthday in a special way.