BIRTHDAY WITHOUT CANDLES

by Cathy Arden on October 18, 2015

A birthday arrives, not with cake and candles and good wishes, but with memories, both sobering and celebratory, joyous and tragic. Today my mother would have turned 93. The first birthday at which she is no longer on this earth. And, strangely, there is gratitude that she did not make it, yet again, to another birthday being so ill, so diminished, so dependent, so unaware. For eleven years I searched various sources of wisdom hoping to find the meaning of her extended diminished life. Why? I’d always ask. A therapist, a rabbi, a trusted and wise friend, my insightful adult children. What is the meaning of this life barely being lived? Who isn’t doing the letting go? Is it me or is it her or is it both of us? Or neither of us at all? For so long my mother outlived every death sentence, every grim diagnosis, every time limit on her survival. Until the day she didn’t. Until the day I held her in her bed and her breathing slowed then stopped. That day was the release for us both. That moment I had dreaded. That moment I had braced myself for during every emergency, every surgery, every long stay in so many ICU’s over so many years.   I dreaded her death and I dreaded her oncoming birthdays because there ceased to be anything to celebrate in her ghostlike life, her frail, barely existent body like a thin silent exclamation point that punctuated the end of every day.

Now she is memory without struggle, air without form, a birthday without emergency or worry or concern or dread. Mom, I celebrate you now as I was unable to do when you were alive and suffering. You bounded through life in triumph and joy and laughter and love, dedication and success. I watched as my sister’s illness and death tore through you and crippled your heart but only until your grandchildren came into being.   You were an original, a visionary, an inspiration to your family and to those who entered your sacred circle. I am left with gratitude and awe. Sadness pales in comparison.

Mom at desk

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Rima Riszkiewicz Simon October 18, 2015 at 12:28 PM

You now carry her light

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Cathy Arden October 18, 2015 at 3:51 PM

Thank you, Rima.

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Kate Clark October 18, 2015 at 7:45 PM

Beautiful. You couldn’t have said it better.

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Cathy Arden October 18, 2015 at 8:02 PM

Thanks so much, Kate.

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Steve Howard October 18, 2015 at 8:50 PM

Would you mind working up a little eulogy for me when you’ve got a moment? Something like this would be perfect. Just make me seem as accomplished and well loved as your mother. It’s a lovely tribute…

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Cathy Arden October 19, 2015 at 8:24 AM

Will do, Steve! And thank you for reading the entry and for your response.

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Susana Lannik October 19, 2015 at 3:58 AM

Kathy
What a lovely tribute . I asked the same questions about my mom and continually hear it from my clients. It seems to me that what happens to some people is a cruel joke–the old saying– man plans and God laughs. We can only try to live a full life for as long as possible– hopefully to he end.
Love
Susana

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Cathy Arden October 19, 2015 at 8:25 AM

Susana, thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. Your mother and mine had a special friendship. They were birds of a feather, for sure.

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Amanda Campbell October 19, 2015 at 10:00 PM

Beautiful Cathy, just beautiful

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Cathy Arden October 19, 2015 at 11:01 PM

Thank you, Amanda!

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John McEveety Woodruff October 20, 2015 at 3:12 PM

Hi Cathy,

I can feel the love. You will have thoughts like that every October 18th for the rest of your days which I hope will be many, happy and healthy.

Love, John

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Cathy Arden October 20, 2015 at 6:38 PM

Thank you so much for your response to the blog entry, John. So appreciated. All my love — Cathy

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