Three years ago for my birthday I was in the wilds of the Texas hill country, without cell coverage and with minimal wifi. Laity Lodge is great that way because it allows guests to make real connections.
But it was my birthday and I don’t think anyone there knew.
Not that it mattered, of course.
I called my husband on a land-line and talked with him and the kids. It was enough.
He told me that my brother Stewart had called and wanted me to call him back.
When I got home, I put off that call.
My brother died from a heart attack 11 days after my birthday.
When did I last hear his voice? I don’t know.
In my mind I can still hear him, though. I remember what my name sounded like when he said it. I remember his laugh.
My mother forgot my name altogether. I used to remind her.
“I’m Sally,” I would say, and she would repeat back, “That’s right. You’re Sally.”
I used to use photographs to help her remember the names of family members, naming each person as we touched them in the picture. She eventually couldn’t do that either.
I don’t remember the last time she said my name.
And I have more trouble remembering her voice — maybe because it turned dry and creaky. She didn’t sound the way I wanted to remember her.
This year for my birthday, I heard from all my children — most with a phone call or FaceTime. Mary, Laurel, Bud and I went to see La La Land and then went out to dinner. It was very nice.
My morning started with a birthday card in my coffee maker (from Laurel) and birthday stickers on the newspaper (from my brother).
I was curious to see what my father would say about the birthday stickers. I knew he wouldn’t remember my birthday without some sort of reminder.
“Oh! I see we have stickers on the newspaper this morning,” he said as he sat down at the kitchen table.
He peered at them closely. “It says, ‘Happy Birthday,'” he read. “I don’t think it’s my birthday though.”
“No, Dad,” I answered, giving him his pills and his juice. “It’s my birthday.”
“Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense.”
No birthday wishes.
It wasn’t a slur against me. It doesn’t really matter.
But it did.
Because it means I’ve lost another little piece of him.
We lost my mother in dribs and drabs, an expression she used to use.
Now we’re losing my father the same way.
It’s almost certain that next year he won’t remember my birthday either. Dementia tends to only go in one direction.
I just hope he still remembers my name.