A Birthday Tradition

When I was growing up, our family wasn’t always a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. But every year, on my birthday, my parents made it seem as if the world stopped to celebrate “me.”

Over the years, there was a single birthday tradition that came to mean the most me.

First thing in the morning, each and every birthday, my phone would ring and I would be greeted by my mother’s cheery rendition of “Happy Birthday”.” Then we would talk about my plans for the day, but it was my mother’s birthday song-gram that I looked forward to the most each year and truly heralded the start of a special day.  It is a tradition that I have continued with my children and my mother continued with each of her five grandchildren.

A few years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. This year, months before my birthday, I answered the phone and heard my mother singing “Happy Birthday.” After my mother finished singing, I happily thanked her, as I normally would, – despite my own confusion as to her timing.

Then suddenly, softly, she said, “It isn’t your birthday is it?” I opted for an honest answer and cheerily replied, “No mom, it isn’t my birthday, but no need to worry. I’m just lucky … now I’ll get to hear you sing twice this year!”

Perhaps my mother prophetically knew something that I did not.

My Mother’s illness progressed rapidly and she passed away on August 10 – three days after my birthday. My Mother was unable to sing on my birthday this year. And so it is with mixed emotions that I look back on the un-birthday song-gram I received from my mother earlier this year, happy that I had the opportunity to hear her sing  to me one last time and saddened that my birthday will never be the same.

It was my husband’s birthday this week – the first family birthday since my mother’s passing. Sadly, I could not bring myself to sing. I wondered, aloud, if I would ever be able to sing “Happy Birthday” without feeling sadness or tearing up. “I promise,”  my husband replied. “One day, on our grandchild’s first birthday, you will pick up the phone early in the morning for their inaugural “Happy Birthday” song.”

I hope my husband is right, for in that way my mother will live on in the hearts of a new generation that never had the opportunity to know her that but will hopefully be inspired to carry on her very special “Happy Birthday” tradition.

~ Laura Mansfield