Today I turn 39. Every other year, birthdays have been bittersweet. Another year older meant more wrinkles and even more grey hair. But this year is different. This year I am grateful to be celebrating another year. Thankful for every new wrinkle and every grey hair because each wrinkle and grey hair measures giggles, squeals, smiles and inches in my children that weren’t there the year before. They represent secrets with my husband and jokes with my brother, meals, laughter, tears and happiness with friends and family that never would have been experienced without growing a year older.
For some time now, I have tried to live my life with gratitude. To count my blessings and be thankful for all that I have. But never has that been truer than now. This year, I am acutely aware of how precarious and unpredictable life can be. Up until a few months ago, I stressed about normal things-contractors, deadlines, work, chores, kids and countless other mundane things. Then, in November, my dear friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She is 35 years old. She has a 1-year old daughter whose eyes will turn you to mush. And now, she is fighting the fight of her life. How does that happen? How do you go from being healthy, the world at your feet to scheduling chemo and surgery in the matter of hours and days?
And then yesterday, I had a new patient come in. She is 50 years old. She has had a neurological disorder for 15 years. The same one as me. For 10 of those years, she was well. She worked, she walked, she mothered. Just like me. Then, in the past 4 years, her health deteriorated. She can now barely walk or talk. I looked at this patient and saw my potential future. That could happen to me.
I think to myself, count your blessings and live in the present. I have had another year of walking, exercising, working, loving, laughing and playing with the kids. I try to focus on the positive and continue to be grateful.
But then there are moments when it’s hard to be grateful. Moments like this afternoon, when I was driving home, thinking about getting the kids to music class and hoping my husband doesn’t forget the cake (more for the kids’ sake than for mine), when it hit me-I miss my mom. My mother passed away when she was 56 and I was 29. This is my 10th birthday without her. There are times like today when I feel her absence so deeply that I can’t breathe. The sorrow overwhelms me. It happens at random times. Sometimes it will be while I am cooking and I think of something she used to say, or sometimes it will be while I am running and I can picture her smile. She pops into my mind without warning and every time, I am left feeling a tightness in my throat and tears in my eyes. To this day I can’t speak of her for more than 2 minutes without crying. I am crying as I type this. I feel such sadness that she never got to see where life took me, that she never got to meet my boys and most especially, that my boys will never know the love of a doting grandmother.
But then I try to remind myself that this is what life is about. Life is sweeter when you have experienced death. Health is more precious when you have faced illness. Love is greater when you have lost. The highs are so much higher when you have spent time wallowing in the lows.
So this year, instead of grumbling about getting older, I am thrilled to be celebrating another year lived, another year of health, another year of mothering and another year of endless joy, abundant laughter and immense blessings. This year, I am putting all 39 candles on my cake to symbolize how much I appreciate every single one of those years, the good ones and the bad.
Happy Birthday to me.