Birthday Pain

This birthday is a bit sad for me. It’s my first birthday without a mom. While my own mother died a month before my birthday last year, organizing her funeral, getting the family together, traveling to Texas and bringing home a box of memorabilia made it seem like I didn’t have a birthday last year.¬† My computer crashed when she died, ensuring I had a solid month to grieve without the distraction of work.

Yes, my head spun for longer than a month, even though I’d been trying for years to prepare myself for losing a mother who alternately adored and beat the crap out of me from infancy into adulthood.

In my youth, it bugged me that my May 6 birthday was so close to Mother’s Day that I had to think about doing something nice for “her” during the one time a year legitimized for being the center of attention. Since I left home at 16, I usually had to buy or make a Mother’s Day card, gift or flower order before my birthday, thus tainting the week before and after my so-called special day.

I flushed the residue of decades of trying to have a “normal” relationship at her funeral that April day–a few words scrawled on a piece of paper that preceded her cremains into the ground. So last Mother’s Day, at least, was about remembering the greatest¬† gift she ever gave me: the thoughtful, kind, compassionate person I am–a person I could not have been without her. Though I skipped my birthday, at least Mother’s Day was saved!

This winter, my mother-in-law died. I miss her. She was a loud and cantankerous old woman, and she was old already when I met her 18 years ago. She could be critical, but she was not mean. She eventually accepted me as a decent daughter-in-law. She sent me birthday cards with a $20 bill tucked inside, just as she did for her own children.

Each birthday (and once when I received the card and $20 when it was not my birthday), I set aside the $20 for something special–a hat, a jacket, a necklace…During the year when I’d see something I fancied, I’d stash the idea away for when my birthday $20 would come! I enjoyed letting Mom know what she bought me for my birthday. She’d say in her slowing husky way, “That’s ni-ice.”

I’ve felt sad several times over the last week. I shed a few tears. I’ve received birthday cards from Ace Hardware, Factory Brand Shoes, Farmer’s Insurance and Chico’s. There will be one from my dentist this week, a card and a stick of chewing gum. But there won’t be the two cards my mother used to send–one funny and one sentimental. Or the prayer for my soul cards she sent in her last decade or so. And there won’t be a card from my mother-in-law with a $20 in it. (I told her I expect that $20 to show up somewhere!)

A mark in the passage of time, the growing and maturing the fortunate among us benefit from. A gray hair. A wrinkle. A persistent pain. And finally one’s first birthday without a mom.

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