This is the month of my birthday-heralded by cooler temps, clearer skies and the remarkable newness of “back to school.”
As a kid, I loved the timing of my birthday because it was a few weeks into the new school year. Close enough for my summer friends to celebrate and my school friends too!
I don’t know why, but my birthday has always been a VERY big deal for me.
Delusions from the beginning
Maybe it was because I was the eldest of five, maybe it was because I was a quiet child, but from an early age I believed that it was entirely possible to have a surprise party waiting for me at home. . Riding the bus, I would have a quiet sense of anticipation as I pictured walking through the door and having all my friends waiting. How unrealistic was that? For starters half of those that would have been attending were sitting next to me on that same bus.
The high hopes, fueled by an episode of the Brady Bunch, were dashed by the reality of my life.
The reality was a lovely one-where my mother would allow a friend party and then a family cake and presents.
That reality held through my life. My mother always made a nice day of our birthdays with a special meal and a cake. As we got older, birthdays became mandatory no matter where we were or what we were doing. In our twenties, we would come in from the city for dinner and cake no matter what day of the week it would be. As we got husbands and wives, it became clear that we were “Birthday People” and a bit of good natured comments would be made regarding the mandatory nature of the celebrations.
The sweetest days
With my own family came the sweetest birthdays of homemade cards, special treats and Dad-purchased gifts procured with the flourish of excitement and conspiratorial looks.
Those days are remembered with warmth and nostalgia.
My husband was a fan of the “2 card” birthday-one card was a comical pop-up with off-colored messages, while the second was a serious, to-notch card that usually started with “Happy Birthday to My Beautiful Wife.” The kids would gather around and laugh at the pop-up and try to read the serious ones.
Later, there would be dinner with my mother and my sister and her family. Always together as a family.
Later as the kids went away to school the participants would be fewer, but the warm wishes and the two-cards always remained.
Half of a century
My husband and my sister always called me surprise party needy and said because I wanted a surprise party and had never had one, I would never get one. I loved surprise parties and had loved giving them, but I was told that as long as I kept expecting one, I wouldn’t get it.
For my 50th birthday, my husband planned a “Sunday Brunch” which was for our friends and family. The ruse was so intricate, I didn’t have a clue when I walked into our local restaurant and was greeted by 100 family and friends, the night before the planned “brunch.”
It was a great night and I was blown away by the whole thing and how I didn’t suspect a thing.
Four years later, I’d be spending my birthday happily at Memorial Sloan Kettering where my very sick husband was given an emergency appointment to discuss the cancer that was diagnosed three weeks before. As he lay on the examination table, I took a picture with him, wearing a silly pink birthday crown that a lovely friend had left on my porch with treats the night before. When I got home, I found a bottle of wine and my friends AMAZING Mac ‘n Cheese made with love and left for celebration.
It was a great birthday because he was still alive and I was still with him.
The Widows Birthday
From the time Michael died to now, I have chosen to celebrate for the both of us. Hungry for life, I plan a birthday celebration(s) that keep going-straddling my birthday and his. He was 10 days my junior, born at the same NY hospital, and every birthday that I have had since he has been gone starts with me thinking “This is a day he would never see.”
On my first birthday after he died, I invited family and close friends to my house–a house I had just moved into days before. It felt weird to be celebrating in a house that he had never been in, but on the other hand it felt “lighter.”
The second year, I threw myself a decently large party-inviting family, friends and new friends that I had only acquired in widowhood.
Every year, I seem to add on days of celebration-easily done by the inability to get everyone together at the same time.
And then there was this year
This year, my birthday started a few days early with a Billy Idol concert, went into an art exhibit and dinner with the girls, friends and family on the day itself and ended (or has it?) with Sunday family dinner.
I’m always aware of the fact that for him, and for so many others, life didn’t extend beyond their 40’s, 50’s and so I celebrate and live with that in mind. Trying to celebrate everything and to cherish everything, I think that every step, even misstep has a purpose, all solidifying the fact that we are alive.
Someone asked me why I used a hashtag #thisis59. She thought that It had something to do with looking, or not looking 59. I had to explain that the hashtag was to remind myself and others that these days are milestones, they are precious. And by the way, it’s not over yet, next weekend I have a joint birthday celebration planned-always a ton of fun!
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.