A birthday burden
(Images: My 30th birthday cupcake, Me & Martha 1985, Mum + Dad, My birthday 2015)
I have a strange relationship with my birthday, I think lots of people do. Society at large places a lot of expectation on birthdays, the cards, the wrapping paper, the cake, really it is a lot (go checkout @jtfirstman “this is my impression of a birthday” it’s so good!). My birthday does not conjure up particularly happy memories, the happiest ones I think were before my ability to hold memories. I remember snippets of birthdays from the years, mostly derived from photographs or other people. My best birthday was probably when I turned 21, so I’m told. But that seems like a distant memory now. I distinctly remember the first birthday after Dad died, something of a horror show. So many tears, emptiness, pain. The firsts after death are always the hardest, a stark reminder that the familiarity of something would not be so familiar that year.
I’ve spent many years attempting to celebrate my birthday, and certainly over the last 7 years as I care for Martha I have wanted to distract myself from the inevitable pain that comes from acknowledging my birth. My 30th birthday was maybe the hardest, and saddest, there is something about those milestone birthdays that just get ya. I went to Hahei with Martha, she occasionally recognised me then, but I was beginning to fade. I stood at the lookout alone and wished myself happy birthday, hoping that my next trip around the sun would be better. That was also the first time I had to spoon feed Martha, she had refused to eat, we sat in the local café and I cut up her breakfast and fed her. There is some irony in that I guess.
As a caregiver to my Mother birthdays have become more of a burden than a blessing, another reminder of the cruelty of life, another reminder that the woman who grew me, birthed me, raised me, no longer knows me by name or as her daughter. She is the key to my birth story, my formative years, and yet when she held these memories I did not ask for them, there are so many things I have lost about myself that only a Mother would know. This year in particular I wanted to celebrate, it’s been a hard year for so many, my want to celebrate almost felt desperate, I wanted to override the pain and sadness, I wanted a reprieve from being Kyrin the caregiver, but alas that was not meant to be. My attempts futile, my brain my biggest enemy, followed by the flu and a couple kidney infections thrown in for good measure.
And in that I am reminded of the deep loneliness, the type of loneliness that is not cured by others. The type of loneliness that is not because you lack connection, or people, but because there is no remedy for this type of loneliness. It connects me to the space that grieves for my Dad, that grieves for my Mum, that has no knowledge of siblings but the desperation that in this very moment, I wish I had one. It connects me to the strange world of conditional and unconditional love, and I am reminded that one day, Love will not be afforded to me by birthright, I will indeed need to earn it, prove that I am worthy of someone else’s love. And I then I begin to wonder if that is too much for people to read, if that particular detail about love is too sad. In this lifetime I have already learnt that love is very much conditional, I am fortunate that my parents never made me feel that way, but perhaps I am one of the lucky few. Over the past few years I have learnt that even those you thought you would love forever, somehow can fade like a photograph left in the sun.
And so while I wait for the 29th of November to pass, I am reminded of how lonely being an only child was, and how lonely it still is. This year I will celebrate my birthday with Martha, I will get her out of bed, if I am lucky she will smile at me. We will make the slow walk to the bathroom, past the Colin McCahon print that says “tomorrow will be the same, but not as this.” I will bathe her, and dress her, prepare her breakfast and feed her. I will tell her it is my birthday, and expect nothing in return. If the weather is nice I may make the drive to my favourite beach and give my tears to the ocean, and if it’s not, I will save those tears for another day.