Before Graeme died, birthdays were always special in our house. I know some people have never made much of birthdays but we did. I remember excitedly opening presents and cards on my birthday (who doesn’t like presents?). I also remember the excitement of choosing presents for my family for their birthdays from an early age (before I had any money of my own), particularly for my brother. We both had summer birthdays and our garden was big. Birthdays when we were little, weather permitting, involved friends and family gathering in our garden and we had paddling pools, sack races and other fun and games!
Graeme had one birthday in Texas when my Dad was working there for about nine months and we had gone over for the Summer holidays. I remember going to see Back to the Future 2 at the cinema (followed by a Wimpy meal) for another of Graeme’s birthdays. I think my first birthday party held outside of the family home/garden was held at Cromer Lodge (do Stocktonians remember that?). It was a giant soft play and ball pool area (at least, it seemed giant when I was a kid) with an old train carriage attached in which it been refitted as a cafe carriage where we ate our food. I remember having a Snow White cake at that party (made and decorated by you know who!). Now I have children of my own, I know how noisy soft play usually is and I call it hell on earth. A bit dramatic, perhaps, but it’s certainly not a pleasant experience for parents. Sorry Ma and Pa for subjecting you to that!
Anyway, before I go any further down memory lane, my point is that birthdays were celebrations in the most joyful way imaginable. I have very happy memories of birthdays in both childhood and adulthood until I was 25.
It was Graeme’s 28th birthday not long after we were told that there was nothing else that the surgeons and oncologists could do to stop Graeme’s tumour growing. Initially he didn’t want to, but I persuaded him to have a fancy dress party. Can you guess what the theme was from this photo?
Although I knew it was his last birthday and therefore as bitter as it was sweet, I enjoyed it with almost all of our nearest and dearest around us. (He died just under three months after that party.)
To misquote a phrase, the Birthday parties we used to have are like foreign countries: they do things differently there.
After he died, initially I found any celebrations difficult, whether for birthdays, weddings or anything else. I have always found Graeme’s birthday a bit odd ever since he died and suspect that’s not going to change. I think of him every day, miss him every day and think back to happy and/or sad memories every day. His birthday is, in that sense, just like any other day. It is strange, however, to be thinking that the fact that he was born and lived is still a cause for celebrating even though it is beyond sad that he is not here to grow older.
As time has gone on, I have re-found my enthusiasm for others’ birthdays but I have struggled every year with mine. My birthday is, to me, a reminder that I am living and getting older and that my older brother is not. It’s what I think of as survivor’s guilt. That has been a particular problem since I became older than he was when he died. I have felt that I’m leaving him behind.
As of my birthday last Thursday, I am now eight years older than he was when he died. In addition to all of the above birthday baddie bags (that is, baggage), as I wrote on Facebook:
“…I wasn’t looking forward to today: partly because the last week has been physically (and therefore emotionally) challenging to say the least; partly because I think I’m now venturing into my late thirties (although I feel like I’m in my late seventies!); and, well you can fill in the major blank of why I wouldn’t feel like celebrating.
“However, my mood has soared thanks to my amazing friends and family both on and off Facebook. It’s been a special day packed full of flowers, helium balloons, thoughtful presents, funny and/or beautiful cards, and, above all else, spending lots of time with my wonderful parents, my lovely husband and my two beautiful kids. We managed a lunch out together for the first time in nearly three months!
“(The fact that Graham bought me a shiny rose gold iPhone 7 is undoubtedly a factor in my spirits being lifted! I know I’m shallow but I do love an Apple product or seven…“.
Bucket and Spade
I enjoyed my birthday last week. Not just, as I joked on Facebook, in an “increasing success by lowering expectations” kind of way but more in a “making the most of things when I’m physically able to do so” kind of way. I felt so much better physically than I had done in over a week and that, combined with lovely days on Thursday and Friday, meant that I was able to make the most of things.
I decided to make a bucket list a few months ago. All I could think of was my desire to enjoy as many of my family and friends’ milestones, celebrations and birthdays as possible. Above all, I want to see as much as I can of my kids’ milestones.
I don’t know how many more friends and families’ birthdays I’m going to celebrate nor for how long I will be able to enjoy the “luxury” of survivor’s guilt. I’m going to try not to dwell on “how many more…” during each and every milestone, even if before and after I struggle with such thoughts and dig my way towards the pit of despair.
A Hairy Birthday Suit
As I implied by a reference in a previous post, my hairstyle was beginning to resemble that of Andy in Little Britain. Therefore, as my hair has grown back to some extent, I have bitten the bullet and gone for the chop. Following a first cut on my birthday, I asked my ever-talented Mama for a further cut on Friday. It’s a low(no?)-maintenance “style”, so much so that I can wash it in the sink! I wish I’d gone shorter years ago! It’s darker than I remember my natural colour being and less grey than I feared. Welcome back hair!
There is still a sizeable bald patch across my head but my Mam says there are little green shoots coming through in patches so we are hopeful that I will regain almost a full head of hair.
Without further ado, this is my hair as of this morning:
PS I’ve been sleeping a lot over the last couple of days so didn’t get photos of our weekend painting party pals. I did, however, make it up to the Hobbit House on Friday to take photos of these enthusiastic team members: