The saddest birthday of all

My mother turned 80 yesterday and in terms of ‘worst birthdays’ this was definitely one that’s best forgotten.

My dad’s 80th was a large family gathering of three generations and old friends. We took him out for lunch at a lovely hotel, spent  the whole afternoon together, walked down to a beach near Porthscatho (some of us even swam), chatted, laughed and came back to have tea in the hotel’s garden with birthday cake we’d made him. It was a lovely day of cementing family ties and idyllic in every sense.  A sunny Saturday in late September 2009 is a day we’ll all remember with lasting nostalgia and affection.

In painful contrast, I was my mum’s only visitor on a day which should have been a celebration of her long life.

There were no gifts, no flowers, no chocolates and she had only 6 birthday cards in total: from her two sisters, her three daughters, and one from my dad. Nothing else. For in all intents and purposes my mum has vanished from the rest of the world.

It is not that she’s forgotten. We miss her terribly and find it painful to see the frail shell she’s become since the slow death of dementia robbed my mum from all of us. What point is there in making a fuss? There’s no joy in going through a tragic farce of making it special.   My mum’s no longer able to share, join in or enjoy any family celebration. Confined, incontinent and riddled with arthritic pains. We’ve no idea how aware she is of us or anything around her.

She lay on her bed on her side. Her eyes were open but she showed not the slightest flicker of interest or recognition when I kissed her head and I stroked her hand.  I tried to talk a bit and tell her things, but it wasn’t a conversation. I opened each birthday card for her while she lay on her bed on her side. Reading the ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes and names, showing and talking about each one before placing them carefully on her window sill. All the while my mother didn’t even utter a single sound or change her expression.

I’ve watched her over the past decade disappear like dry, flaking paint. Eventually, the surface is so destroyed that nothing sticks and you only have to breathe to watch the pieces flutter and fall away. She looks as if she’s been swallowed by her sadness.

I need desperately to cling onto my memories of her, to picture her as she was in her prime and feel inspired by the energy, the love and the passion she bestowed on us. And write her eulogy.

12 thoughts on “The saddest birthday of all

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  2. My Gran suffered with dementia, but we were lucky she remembered family members and was still as cheery as before. But she would constantly ask what time it was, write notes all over the place (even on the back of place mats) and after she had a nasty fall which led to having surgery to her leg she changed and even lashed out at my mom. That very moment she realised she had gone and spent the last few days with her until she passed.
    It’s awful to see someone you love go through dementia. I was just glad she never stopped smiling right up til she left us physically.

  3. Oh Jessica, how sad 😦 We lost our nan the weekend before last and although she too was very ill before she passed it hit us hard 😦 But after loosing my dad 5 years ago nothing seems to be as bad as that (he was only 60) and certainly taught me to remember every single good time you have, so please remember her as you want to and not like this, this is just one moment of her life, not who she is.
    Stay strong, and smile, cos even if your mum doesn’t talk back a smile you always remember 😀

    Hugs Jessica

  4. I feel for you. I have never forgotten visiting my grandmother on her final birthday in a nursing home. I was her only visitor that day for one reason or another but as you say she wasn’t really aware of what was happening. Stay strong xx

  5. Your writing and strength has bought tears to my eyes. I am sure that deep inside she felt your warmth, love and presence that day.

  6. It must be so hard for you. My grandad has dementia but not so bad that he has forgotten us yet although he does have moments. My nan passed away on the 16th feb and we are all heartbroken it was made worse for the first week by the fact that he kept asking how she was and each time we told him she’d gone he would be heartbroken just like the day she left. Like you said she is now just a shell and all her life and happy memories live inside your heart.

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