“One year closer to death.” That’s how I often refer to my birthday. It’s kind of a joke, but also an acceptance of the truth. No matter how long I live, I have one year less to live than I did on my last birthday.
For most of my life my birthday has been surrounded by death. In 1975, the year I turned nine, my mother took me and my sister, Mishell, to spend the weekend with her at the family farm just outside of Amherst. Mom lived in Halifax and we usually saw her every second weekend, but this was a sad visit. My grandfather, mom’s dad, was in the hospital with lung cancer and they knew he had just days to live. That Saturday, my birthday, mom gave me my gifts in a truck in the driveway because no one inside felt like celebrating. We woke the next morning to the news that my grandfather had died.
May 9, 1992, was the day of the Westray Mining Disaster in Nova Scotia. 26 men died that day. My 26th birthday.
Growing up I spent half of my weekends at my cousin Ricky’s house. I shared my birthday with his mom, my Aunt Carol, and we often talked about our May 9th connection. In December of 1995 she died at just 50 years old. I think of her every year on our birthday and, especially now that I’ve passed 50, I realize how young she was.
In 1996 I was dreading my 30th birthday. The day before my birthday, my Aunt Hilda, who I adored, died just weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was only 43 and it put things in perspective for me. Rather than dreading the thought of getting what I then considered to be old, I was grateful to be alive.
In 1999, the sitcom star, Dana Plato died of a drug overdose the day before my birthday. Dana had come to Live Bait to act in a show with me in 1995 and we had stayed in touch over the next few years. She was just 34 and so full of life.
In 2008 I had gone through a divorce and just started working at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. My birthday fell on a weekday and I was disappointed that I couldn’t get up to Sackville to see the kids. I was living with mom and sleeping on her couch. I knew it was going to be a depressing birthday.
I got home from work and mom had all the doors locked. I knocked and she finally answered, her hair dripping wet, having just showered. She looked incredibly depressed. The curtains were drawn and the apartment was dark and filled with cigarette smoke. A movie was playing on the tv. She got a cake from the kitchen that was iced but still in the pan, dropped it on the coffee table in front of me and said, “It fell in the middle when I was baking it.”
I went on my laptop to check Facebook in the hopes that some birthday wishes might lift my spirits. I also share a birthday with my cousin, Trina. I said to Mom, “Oh, Trina, wrote to say Happy Birthday.” Mom asked, “Did she mention Dad or Hil?”
Ummm…no. I was a bit surprised by the question. I thought, “No, mom, she didn’t write to say, ‘Happy Birthday! Are you thinking of the family members who died close to our birthday?’” When I said she hadn’t, Mom responded, “God, I hate this time of year.” lol
I know how depressing that sounds, but I look back at that day and laugh. Clearly mom was also reminded of death whenever my birthday rolled around. But for some reason it made me laugh. You either laugh or you cry.
And now, this year. For the second year in a row my birthday has occurred during a strict Covid related lockdown. Again I can’t see my kids or family. It’s also my first birthday since mom passed away and it just so happens to be Mother’s Day. I’m not going to lie, I’ve kind of been dreading today. But now that it’s here, I’m doing okay.
On my birthday every year, I think of Grampy and Aunt Hilda and Aunt Carol and Dana and those miners I didn’t know. And today I’m also thinking of mom. I can’t say I exactly love getting older, but having death so closely tied to the day I was born reminds me of the cycle of life. And it makes me grateful that I was born and that I’m still here. How lucky am I to be celebrating fifty-five trips around the sun? And as I go through my birthday greetings I’m reminded of how many people I’ve known and loved. What a full fifty-five years. Keep the birthdays coming!
Amherst, May 9, 2021