Saturday when I was getting coffee Ashley the barista asked me what I’d been doing all morning. I looked disheveled.
“Yardwork,” I said.
“Are you getting a jump on winter?”
“No, we’re having a party next week.”
“That’s awesome,” she said. “I never celebrate my birthday.”
“I’m embarrassed too. I don’t think I’m worthy of it.”
“That’s silly,” I said. “What would ever give you that idea?”
“I don’t know. I must have baggage I haven’t figured out.”
“I get that. You know birthday depression is actually a thing. But maybe it’s time to let that sh*t go,” I say. “Have a Frozen moment.”
She started laughing and agreed.
Later in the day when I was taking a couple rugs out of the washing machine two dimes were staring up at me from the bottom of the drum. What in the world? I don’t typically count money in the laundry as finds but these dimes fell out of rugs which means I had money in my bath rugs and didn’t know it. Crazy! This brought to mind my earlier conversation with Ashley and I wondered if like the dimes I had some hidden baggage.
One thing came to mind right away—my Dad moving out on my third birthday. This memory has dogged me most of my life. What’s sad is that I know it had nothing to do with me. It was all about my parents. My Mom said he did it to get back at her. My Dad says he doesn’t remember it being my birthday. My brother would always say what does it matter they still love you. This was his way to avoid feeling all the “feels” associated with that.
When I scrolled through other birthday memories, I found more that were tarnished. Divorce in a family will do that for a kid. So did my brother’s drinking and when her dementia started my Mom managed to get ugly on some of my birthdays. Memory loss doesn’t always bring out the best in a person. By the time my 50th was approaching my birthday had become an almost a dreaded thing. When my sweetie asked what I wanted to do to celebrate I told him no party. I can’t trust how my family will behave. Last year as my 54th was getting closer I decided to go out of town to see my Dad. That would mean I wasn’t around for any drama. The good news is I had a great time with my Dad so that worked out well. Buoyed by that experience I started to think maybe it was possible to have a drama-free birthday. Avoiding them wasn’t exactly helping lighten the emotional load.
The importance of letting go of past hurts really started to resonate with me when I was sitting in Atlanta with my sister-in-law. She was having a chemo treatment. We were talking about our family and some of our painful memories when she abruptly says, “But life is so short, we just have to let it go.” Then just as abruptly she falls asleep. It was like a scene from a movie.
A few days later when I got home to Colorado, I got a message from my neighbor’s son telling me hospice care had been started for his dad. My neighbors Creighton and Glo are like family to me. They like to tell me they’re my other parents and during many seasons of my life they have been. She calls me “Sugar” and he calls me “Dear”—names that drip like honey on my heart.
Entering this season of transition with them has opened the door to many thought-provoking conversations. We’ve reminisced about our good times and bad with Glo insisting we focus on the positive. Her phrase, “What’s done is done there’s nothing we can do about it.” When I admire their fighting spirit Creighton whispers, “What else can you do?”
More than once I’ve come home struck by the thought that the fear of death shouldn’t have to be the thing that prompts you to let go of bad memories. In a perfect world it should simply be the recognition that they’re weighing you down. In that spirit toward the end of August I told my sweetie, “Id like a party for my birthday. It’s time for me to start celebrating life.”
Since then things have taken a turn for the worse at Creighton and Glo’s. When I went over to help a couple days ago, I mentioned the party to her. Creighton was sleeping through a breathing treatment while we talked. “I feel horrible about this Glo. The timing is terrible. It’s going to be loud.”
“What—do you think we’re going to call the police?” she said laughing. “Sugar you don’t worry about a thing. You just have a great time. We’re party people. We’d join you if we could.”
I smiled through tears and then with her bossy voice she said, “Now no tears. I won’t allow it.”
In this moment all our heart-to-hearts wove together into a blanket affirmation that life really is too short to let anything steal your joy. So, for my 55th — 55 have been invited and we plan to dance the night away. Glo said she’d peak over the fence and if you happen to be in the neighborhood you’re welcome too. None of us know what tomorrow will bring but surely, we don’t have to bring our bad memories with it.