Is she going to make it tonight?
I'm pretty sure.
Everyone is coming.
She's going to make it on will and determination.
I recently had a big birthday - a 60th birthday to be exact. Any birthday that ends in a zero is a big deal, whether you're ten (double digits!!), 20, 30, 40, 50. But sixty? Sixty is knocking on Medicare's door. It is not, nor will it ever be, the new anything. In the last few years we have gone to many parties for friends turning sixty and on the way to each one I have said the same thing to Mark, "How do we know this many people getting old?" Ahem.
Was I dreading it? A little. I find many birthdays to be depressing - either for lack of celebration or a lack in achieving the goals of my life that get measured every year on March 6th. But this year I decided that I was going to march into March with my anti-aging-creamed-face and frequently dyed hair held high, owning every bit of my sixty years. The self-esteem was a gift from a lot of women I know as well as the observance of others I admire - be they writers, artists, business women, or a presidential candidate. Women whose style, compassion and humanity has only gotten bigger as age and the accompanying wisdom emboldened them to live a life of their own making regardless of public opinion.
Two years ago for my birthday the kids gifted me with a promise of family photos that never materialized due to conflicting schedules but this year we made it happen. On a cloudy, cool Sunday afternoon we went to the nearby art museum with the most amazing photographer we have come to love for her talent and kindness. She did not disappoint. I will never know how it was that she made us look so good on a dreary day when we were freezing but, oh my, did she ever. When we finished we came back to the house for dinner and cake to celebrate. Before we started my neighbor stopped by to bring me an etched wine glass and a bottle of wine and the day ended with a scrapbook of letters from family and friends that the kids had solicited to wish me a happy birthday.
I cried when I opened it.
The next day was my real birthday and the start of another week of work. Last year that passed without any acknowledgement but this year everyone knew it was my birthday because in a conversation with a coworker it turns out his wife and I share the same birth date. I had finished eating my lunch at my desk when someone called my name. I turned around and there were all of my coworkers, our graduate students, and our work-study students singing happy birthday to me.
At the end of the week was our Listen To Your Mother auditions which is one of my favorite labors of love. Our show is about an hour's drive away and so I was up and out the door early on Friday and Saturday. Our second day was cold and snowy and I came home wiped out from driving, from stress, from holding space for the stories of motherhood. Some neighbors were meeting at the restaurant a short walk away and had asked Mark and I to join them. I badly wanted to stay home and expressed that a time or ten to Mark but it was agreed that this would be ONE drink and then I would get to come home and go to bed. Let me say that my attire matched my mood - so casual that I easily could have worn it to bed if I was too tired to change when I got home which was the point. I would not recommend this look. Ever.
That one drink was really a surprise party and I walked into a room in the restaurant in my half-clothes-half-pajamas, where nearly all of my family had come from Chicago, including my mom who hasn't felt well for weeks, my cousin, my grade school friend, my neighbors, some of my old coworkers, writer friends, a friend I had just spent the morning with, a friend I had been thinking about and texted an hour before the party, friends from when my kids were in grade school.
I started crying.
If there weren't a roomful of people looking at me I would have sobbed but I am Margaret's daughter and she wouldn't have that so I hugged her, hugged everyone, marveled at the ability of Mark and our kids to pull this off without me having a clue, and had a night that will forever be in the highlight reel of my life. As a friend said later, "That room was full of love." It really was and I will never forget it.
On the morning of her birthday I picked up Vicki and took her to the doctor. On the way home she told me about the conversation she would soon be having with her kids to tell them that they had reached the end of the line for treatment options. Her voice cracked, my eyes filled with tears. When we got in the house she flopped on the couch and before I left to go to work I brought her some pain pills and a glass of water. Leaving her alone with so many thoughts that must have been swirling and worrying still makes me sad but she said she was going to rest so she would be ready for that night. That night when a hastily planned party for her birthday would take place that everyone she ever met came to celebrate. The very sick woman I had left earlier in the day rallied and looked as beautiful as ever. For most that would be the last time they would see her, and over and over she said how happy she was that we all came to her party, how good it was to have normal conversations that weren't centered on her health, how lucky she was.
Vicki's birthday celebrations would end on that cold January night - 49 in all. I think of her often and on every birthday of mine - the big ones, the even and odd numbered ones, even the ones that don't get acknowledged - I remember that night, and in a restaurant full of the dearest people in my life I knew she was there.
And all those tears for all the celebrations I was fortunate to have in the span of just a week belonged to what was and what will be, and for that I will always owe her my deepest gratitude.