Monday, July 14, 2008

They Say It's your Birthday...

Okay, so it was yesterday.

Via the miracles of Facebook, the cat was let out of the bag for some of you.

I have so darned much I want to write these days, and yet a lot of things are holding me back. What is holding me back, you might ask? (Or might not.) Hmmm.... probably summer and laziness, honestly.

There was something else legit, though, and it had to do with this particular b'day, which I celebrated yesterday (and speaking of which, Happy B'day to Heather and Peter M., and Jim's wife, Lisa, too!).

This was my 49th birthday. Usually, the big 5-0 is the one that gives people pause. I, however, have no qualms about that one whatsoever.

I really don't have an issue with aging. Truly. I see each age as unique and having advantages and disadvantages. I'm not crazy about some of the health issues with aging (two pairs of glasses, anyone?), but other than that, I have no worries.

My issue with 49 had to do with my sister.

My half sister was 11 years older than I. I could write many, many posts about my family, and my sister's and my relationship, and the complications of all of that. I also suspect that most of us could write complex things about relationships with our sibs and families.

My sister and I were diametric opposites in many, many ways. My basic spirit is chaotic; hers was orderly; she was quiet; I am loud; she was a waif-like, strawberry blonde; and I am a short, squat brunette.

I was healthy as a horse (and still really am), and she was... delicate.

She once said to me that the thing I had in common with our shared father was my intellect, and what she shared with him was her poor health.

At 18, she developed melanoma, and survived.

At 45 or so, she started having a strange pain in her lower spine, which was basically ignored by her primary care physician. This pain became steadily worse over the years, and when she went in for a check-up in the fall of '96, at the age of 48, she was so weak that her physician finally took massive action.

As a non-smoker, she had lung cancer, and it had spread to her brain.

Despite periods of fighting and modern medicine (neither of which my sister fully believed in), Kathy finally succumbed on May 30th, 1997, two days before her 49th birthday.

Her death has affected me in many more ways than I can possibly put into words. I've tried writing about it, writing about her, and honestly, those pieces have sucked.

There are, of course, the negatives: I think about her almost every day. I miss her, despite our ups and downs. I miss not having my one sibling. There are things my nephew has gone through that I wish he hadn't. I'm sad that C never really got to know her because she absolutely delighted in C. She was too damned young. The whole thing just wasn't fair. And yes, I could keep going on and on in this way.

There are also, for me, some positives, although hopefully I would have had other ways to learn these lessons: I don't take anything for granted. Truly. I keep my loved ones close to me, and they are my priority. Always. I have my brother-in-law's wonderful second wife and her amazing family in my life. There are other lessons, too, but these are the main ones.

But oh... getting to that 49th birthday. This date with destiny has been plaguing me for months. I felt a lot better after talking with a psych friend who told me that this is absolutely normal in cases where a sibling, spouse or parent dies young. Be that as it may... it haunted me. Would I live long enough to make sure that C was protected from the things my nephew experienced? Would I accompany D into old age?

Anyway, I made it. And as other friends who have experienced similar anniversaries reassured me, the relief is enormous. Today, the next day, I feel as if I'd never had those anxieties. It was a great birthday, and a perfect birthday weekend, really. The weather was lovely and I had a fabulous event on Saturday night (non-birthday-related, but still great fun) and a day yesterday full of lovely greetings, good entertainment (Hellboy II... yeah, but it was fun!) and a lovely dinner.

The main thing, though, is that today is the next day in the rest of my life.

Forty-nine, here I come.

58 comments:

Peter M said...

Happy Birthday Jen and thanks for your kind wishes.

thailandchani said...

Happy birthday... and I think you're right. It's important to have our priorities in the right place.

Greg said...

Happy Birthday, Jen!!!

I encourage you to continue to write about your family. There is a richness in those relationships arising from the complexities that ARE difficult to get on paper.

Again, happy birthday.

Peter M said...

Facebook? Email me & we can connect. ;)

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks, Peter. I'm glad you had a nice celebration, too.

Chani, as you know, I so agree with this.

Greg, thanks for the encouragement. It's a good challenge. I'll certainly think about it. When I tried to write a piece about family reunions, though, it was the first time my entire writing group said, "Maybe you should just give up on this one." ;-) But you're right... stretching is a good thing.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I'll do so, Peter!

Amy said...

Happy Birthday, Jen!

Goofball said...

Happy birthday here as well. I did see it on facebook but didn't want to congratulate you on your blog as long as you hadn't given it away here :)


I can imagine how strange such a birthday must feel when you all of a sudden become the older sibling. I am glad you had a lot of fun though!

Take care!

Dru said...

Happy Birthday Jen!

Beautiful post.

You're going to love 49.

Núria said...

A HUGE HUG FOR YOU darling Jen!!!! Happy Birthday sweetie♥. I've had a wonderful life so far... but my husband lost his mom when he was 17... she died of leukemia, she was only 37. He knows what you mean.

So glad you had a wonderful birthday with your beloved ones :D

Sister Sassy said...

Wonderful post Jen and you conqured your birthday! Take care, have a wonderful time and I do have to say you look great for your age!

Sister Sassy said...

Oh, I forgot to say I asked you two very important questions back to you in my Sunday comments, in case you don't check back.

..and by important I mean random and inconsequental. But I'd still like to know lol :)

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks, Amy!

Goofball... what an interesting way to put it... I guess I am the older sibling now.

Thanks, Dru! I already do. ;-)

Thanks so much, Nuria! And I'm so sorry your husband lost his mama so young.

Thanks, Sassy! I love the idea of "conquering" my b'day, and of course, I love the compliment, too! ;-) Heading over to your blog now to see the Sunday q's.

glamah16 said...

Happy Birthday. Here is to many more!I know what you mean about anniversaries. Im abaout to turn 40 in Nov and pray I make it to 53( my Moms age when she passed). As I get older I see me becoming more, and more like her.I look back and see many friends and family who didnt make it this far. Anway time for cliches. Look at the glass half full rather than half empty. And live each day to the fullest. Thats all we can do. Life is a gift so celebrate.

anno said...

Happy Birthday! It sounds like you had a wonderful day. And, I'm with Greg -- keep writing these pieces about your family; I think you have a lot to say.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Glamah, I'm so with you on all of that! You mentioned the situation with your mother before - I'm sure you'll be celebrating at 54, just as I was yesterday! And yes, each day is a true gift.

Anno, thanks so much! The comments about family pieces mean a lot coming from you because you have the inside track, so to speak. Maybe we should do some memoir piece reading/trading?

Betsy said...

Happy belated birthday, Jen!!!

I can really sympathize with this sort of milestone. My mom got MS (and a couple of other health issues which cropped up) when she was 38 and it has been a very scary marker for me. I know it's basically a random number since any of us could become ill at any time, but for some reason it loomed like a big, dark cloud on my horizon for many years. I passed that milestone last May, thankfully with my health intact. Let's hope my luck continues...

I'm glad to hear you're healthy and happy and have the right priorities in your life. Warm wishes for the coming 40 years! May they be full of life, love and lots and lots of chocolate! :-)

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks so much, Betsy! I'm glad you passed your marker, too. It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it?

Dingo said...

Happy Birthday, Jen! I look forward to hearing more about your family.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks, Dingo... well, that may remain to be seen, but you might enjoy my NYC childhood vignettes.

Jami said...

Happy, HAPPY Birthday, Jen! And great big hugs!

Age is just a number. What really counts is your state of mind.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I couldn't agree more, Jami! Thanks!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Happy birthday Jen!

I had a freak out at 39 but not at 40.

I'm glad you had someone to talk to regarding your feelings about this birthday and your sister.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Hey NYC, thanks! It was good to hear I wasn't the only one who had this obsession. It's funny... I had a freak-out at 29, but not 30. I think I did at 39, but not 40. Hmmmm.... this one really was different, though! I'm glad you've made it happily to 40 and una bella vida! (Was that even close to Italian?)

Karen Olson said...

Happy birthday, Jen. And after reading your post I now have a lump in my throat. I can understand those milestones that we hit and then surpass and how thankful we are to do that.

And you're on Facebook? Hey, come be my Friend :)

Jan said...

Happy Birthday Jenn !!!!! (((HUGS)))

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thankful indeed, Karen! And yes, I'll go find you on Facebook!

Thanks so much, Jan!

Sandy C. said...

Happy Belated Birthday Jen. Thank you for sharing this part of your family so beautifully. Best wishes to you in your new journey.

Flower Child said...

Happy birthday! it's a wonderful thing to have accomplished and great lessons learned

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks so much, FC! It's been a good start so far.

janethesane said...

Happy Birthday Jen! I am glad you made it too. I am sorry for the loss of your sister.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Sandy, I'm sorry I managed to miss you earlier - thanks!

Thanks for the kind words, Jane.

Becca said...

Happy birthday, slightly belatedly...

Since I have no siblings, I can't pretend to understand your feelings of loss. I have often felt a sort of ghostly emptiness in my life where a sister might have been. I can only imagine how intense that feeling would be had one actually lived there at one time and then suddenly be gone.

Enjoy the year and the many yet to come :)

Heather said...

We saw Hellboy II on Friday (loved it!), too. Happy birthday to you, too Jen! It was also Claudia (cook eat fret)'s b-day on the 3rd, and Emiline's on the 4th. I guess maybe what they say about Cancerians loving food and cooking may have a grain of truth...

Grimm said...

Happy Birthday Jen! I must confess I often have similar feelings around July 4th.

With the fireworks and everything - it keeps me remembering my mothers birthday (July 4th) - who passed almost 10 years ago.

I get sad that my daughters or my wife never got to meet my mother - because I know deep in my heart that they were birds of a feather.

April said...

Happy late bday, Jen! Thank you for sharing that painful process with us. It probably sounds stupid to say now, but my condolences for your loss. I lost a sister, too, before I was born. So it was totally different, but in some odd way, I can relate, too.

bleeding espresso said...

Tanti auguri a te!!!!! Happy birthday Jen--what a lovely gift you've given to yourself by writing out this beautiful post. And thanks for letting us share it as well :)

P.S. I *just* finally caved to Facebook yesterday; I haven't done anything with it so far and probably won't for a few days at least, but if you find me, I'll be your fwend!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Becca, for me, due to our age difference and not growing up in the same house, I had those longings, too, but I was still grateful for her in my life. I share your feelings - wise words!

Heather, are you actually on the 13th, too? I wasn't quite clear. Yes, well, we're supposed to be home bodies and nurturers and all that. ;-)

Grimm... I read your piece on your mom. She sounded like a wonderful woman. One of my all-time favorite students was born on the 4th, too. It's a great day for a birthday.

April, it's different, but there's still that yearning, and still that shadow that falls over your family. I'm sorry for your loss as well.

I'd love that Michelle! Thanks so much for the b'day greetings, too!

Los Angelista said...

Happy Birthday, Jen and thank you for sharing the story of your sister with all of us. 49 is lucky to have you paying a visit!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks so much, Liz! What a lovely way to put it.

Alex said...

Happy Birthday! It was a pleasant surprise to see you and your family at Eve on Sunday- I hope the meal was special enough to fit the occasion of your important birthday.

It was also great to meet you at the picnic...i look forward to sharing more conversation and tasty dishes!

Ben said...

Happy belated Birthday Jenn! I am sorry to hear about how you feel about your sister. But your friend is right, everybody who has lost a loved one when they were young feel that way. All that is left to us is just live fully, because that's the way they would've liked us to live. Right?

Mikaela said...

I absolutely loved this mom. I can't wait to see you in less than a month!!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Thanks so much, Alex. Yes, it was definitely a special enough meal to fit the occasion! What a lovely restaurant Eve has. I look forward to doing more with you, too. I'm still so grateful to Kim and Patti for the get-together!

Ben, you are so wise. That is exactly the way they would want it to be. My mom's best friend was appalled at how soon my brother-in-law remarried (it was 3 years later), but I know Kathy would have been delighted - she'd want my BIL to have love in his life and also to have a loving stepmom for my nephew.

Me, too, Mikaela, me, too!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! YOU MADE IT! (we so gotta hook up on facebook...)

I liked this post - I think as we get older we reflect a lot. I know this has been true for me and you know what, this piece that you wrote about your sister didn't suck in the least!

(So I gotta ask, how was Hellboy? Roberto is dying to see it and I loved Pan's Labyrinth - same director.)

Lilacspecs said...

Happy belated to you. So very glad you're healthy and happy and full of life!

d i a n a m u s e said...

Oh, happiest of birthdays, Jen! I'm a bit late to the party, but I know you won't mind.

I think you honor your sister (and her son and your BiL - and everyone you know, for that matter) by living a happy, meaningful life.

Congrats on passing a formidable milestone with grace and style.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Jenn... Roberto will love it. The same visual vibe is there that was in Pan's. I would highly, highly recommend seeing Hellboy I first, though. I got this recommendation from another blogger (Cathouse Teri) and she was soooooo right! It's a big, sweeping story like Pan's, but not nearly as deep. Thanks for your kind words about reflection and this piece. I'll look for you on Facebook.

Thanks so much, Lilac! Also, I so owe you an e-mail... tonight I'll write. I knew you were in Scotland. ;-)

Thank you, Diana! Visuals like your gorgeous images keep me going each day, too. And actually, your blog reminds me of my sister, who was an artist - she would have so loved it.

Flower Child said...

I just had to be comment number 49... congrats!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Too funny, FC, and a big mmmmwwwwaaaahhh! to you for doing it!

Alex Elliot said...

Happy birthday, Jen! I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. I know my dad's father died in his 50's and my dad approached the age with a lot of apprehension and was very relieved when he reached it.

Proud Italian Cook said...

Hi Jen! And Happy belated to you!
With age comes wisdom,and appreciation, not for material things but for the basics such as love, family and true friends. This was a great post and one that makes us all reflect on whats really important in life!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Alex, thank you for the b'day wishes! I'm glad your father felt better after passing his particular milestone, too.

Thank you for your kind words, Proud Italian - your loved ones are, indeed, the true riches in life!

Leslie said...

Happy (belated) birthday!!! There's nothing like a fresh start.

Warda said...

Happy belated birthday, Jen! Sorry I missed it. May this be the year all your wishes come true.

soccer mom in denial said...

Gee, I'm a jerk. I completely missed a HUGE birthday AND an incredibly powerful piece. I'm so glad to have read about your sister. I look forward to reading whatever you want to share.

Happy belated birthday.

Rebecca said...

Happy belated birthday Jen! And I'm so glad you made it. ;)

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Leslie and Warda, thanks so much!

SMID - you are NOT a jerk - I hope you got my e-mail today. ;-) And thanks for the b'day wishes!

Thanks so much, Becky, I'm glad I made it, too.