on brain tumors and birthdays

I’m feeling sad and blogging (always a bad combo). Fair warning: there’s no point to this post.

My birthday is tomorrow. 39. Besides the usual “holy shit I’m old” and “I’ve done nothing with my life” feelings, my birthday is a time when I remember (or am constantly reminded of) my mother’s death. She had a brain tumor, and died the day before my birthday four years ago. So now, when relatives call or send cards or e-mail to say happy birthday to me, they also feel the need to add some comment about missing my mom. Like a “happy birthday, fuck you”. But they don’t mean it that way, so I say thank you and yes, I wish she was still here, too.

I know it sounds crazy, but her dying that day felt like a gift. If you have ever watched cancer slowly kill someone you love, you might understand. Over the course of three years, I stood by helplessly as my strong, smart, bad-ass mom turned into a confused, wheelchair-bound mute. I saw the pain in her eyes, her frustration at her body’s failure, her anger at the unfairness of disease.

So that morning, I held her and sang to her and dropped morphine onto her tongue as she took her last breaths, and I was grateful. That her suffering, and mine, was ending. That I was able to comfort her in her last hours.

And I knew that the collision of her day of death and my day of birth was just the kind of “circle of life” coincidence she would have appreciated.

I found this poem on tumblr a while back, and I cried. Then I printed it out with a picture of my mom and put it on my refrigerator:

I miss her most when I think of all the funny things
I’ll never tell her,

a graveyard of laughter inside me.

from williamtaylorjr (who has some really awesome poetry, you should check him out)

This is the picture I put with it. My mom dancing like an idiot at my wedding, before she knew she had (as she called it) a “monster in her head”:


I was raised to see death as a part of life. Inevitable and sometimes sad, but natural. That doesn’t help me miss her less.

No one else understands me like she did. No one else will ever love me beyond reason, the way a mother loves her child. And all our little inside jokes, a lifetime of private phrases and code-words and secret hand signals, died with her that day.

I miss her.

Happy Birthday/Deathday to us, Momma.

7 thoughts on “on brain tumors and birthdays

  1. What a lovely picture of your mom. This post brought tears to my eyes. I hope you have a nice birthday tomorrow, when you can celebrate your life and the many ways I’m sure your mother’s influence survives through you.

  2. Your post does have a point. It brings you comfort and gave me a smile. My mom passed from liver cancer, though not on my birthday. It’s wonderful to remember the beauty she brought to your life.

    • Thanks for commenting! I suppose you are right about the point 🙂

      I often think the only “up-side” to a death via cancer (a slow, incremental death) is the ability for us (as the loved ones left behind) to slowly come to terms with the inevitable loss. I was able to laugh again very quickly after my mother’s death, remembering her silly sayings, her sense of humor, her joy and her beauty. I hope you have the same positive memories of your own mother and are able to celebrate her life, even as you mourn her death.

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