Friday, September 3, 2010

Birthday Blues

It was my birthday last Friday. I didn't post about it to let my feelings settle. Guess I wanted to see where they'd lead me. I did experience a letdown and some disappointment. I've posted about the lack of gifts in my life before - that is part of the reason Valentine's Day is so hard for me. Since widowhood, I haven't received flowers and gifts are a rarity. The ones you buy for yourself don't count.

So, on my big day I got a text message saying simply, "Happy birthday," a phone message and an email message. No cards, no gifts. Three impersonal messages not even given in person. I had to go to my insurance agent for a copy of one of my policies and did receive a "Happy birthday" in person there.

I struggle with whether I should be glad for getting even the message acknowledgments that I did. But I'm that half-empty glass gal and so instead I focus on the stinginess of the messages.

Now I should clarify that I have never sent cards to my family with the exception of my Mom when she was alive. So I shouldn't even expect anything from my family. And two of the messages were from family members. But I feel it would be better to have received nothing instead of paltry, duty messages. Instead of feeling noticed and cared for, I ended up feeling diminished and not worth very much if that makes any sense. Maybe I'm thinking about this all in the wrong way. But I know most days I don't feel very valuable to anyone and often I feel invisible.

I know I often disclose about my desire to remarry. How else will I have someone supportive to be by my side if I get sick like my husband was? I worry about dying alone now. There would be no one who'd come to the hospital and manage all the home care stuff that I did for three years nursing my cancer-stricken spouse. My sad little pathetic birthday is evidence of how small my social support network is. It will be up to me to try and reinforce and build it up by meeting new people and establishing myself in new social circles. But right now extra time is limited and my mood is so low it is hard for me to gain the incentive to get out socializing. I can picture it now - "Hey everyone - let's meet that attractive newcomer to our singles group - she is so depressed and negative. All she does is complain. We get so inspired by her life sucks attitude!"

All of us need to feel as though we are valued and important to others. I want to know that someone out there cares enough about me to go out and buy me a gift. In the past, before widowhood, my Mom always sent a card with a check, my husband of course gave me a gift and card as well as making sure the boys picked out something, my mother-in-law would send a card, and there would be cards and a cake at work.

All week I've told myself that my value as a person in this world is not dependent on whether or not I received a card or gifts for my birthday. I've told myself that my circumstances right now are what they are and not to take it personally. But it is hard to have a birthday seem to pass by without so much as a pause in the day-to-day routine.

I've really struggled raising the boys on my own without familial support on either side. My husband's family has not given the boys one single gift or anything since their Dad's death. Their indifference has been hard to deal with. It seems as though family thinks I'm just fine on my own but I'm not. Out of sight, out of mind. You know what the real gift could have been? A phone call other than on my birthday at any point over the past seven years where someone from my life simply called up and said, "Hey, I'm thinking of you - is there anything you need right now or something I could do?"


  1. How nice that you presented yourself to your insurance agent so that he/she could wish you a happy birthday. Perhaps you could have done a birthday tour, allowing everyone to present you a greeting in person.

    Unfortuately, I too often look to the negative in this scenario as well. When I met my husband Michael, I shared with him about all the holidays, especially father's days, that went by without much acknowledgement. I have always worked overtime to make sure my kids feel special on their birthdays or other holidays. But for some reason they don't always think to do the same in return. Michael went out of his way to change that in the years we were together. I also got him to start sending cards and flowers to his mother for her birthday and holidays, as she too was a single parent, and missed out on all of this.

    I think it is just plain human nature to feel bad in these types of situations. I always find it difficult to talk to my brothers on their special days, as they go on and one about what their wives did for them. It is now just a reminder of what I no longer have.

    Not sure what the real answer is. Yes, I do. For us to find another true love.

  2. Maybe when things get turned around for you -- as I'm sure that they will -- you will have someone to celebrate your birthday with. I kind of think that you are at an age when men are either involved in a relationship - or they are divorced and still paying child support, etc.. and don't want to get into any other relationship until their kids are on their own. There seem to be a lot of guys around late 50s or 60 who are interested in relationships, marriage, etc... Personally, I don't want another relationship, so it doesn't matter, but that's just an observation based on what I see happening with other people.

    In many ways, I feel sort of lucky that Don and I never had that many customs. For us, birthdays were pretty much like any other day. We gave each other a card, and once in awhile, we would get take-out chinese food. I actually hate my birthday now and try to pretend it doesn't exist as it was on my birthday that Don was in the hospital with a really bad lung infection and the doctors delivered the bombshells about how it was cancer and that it was spread into so many of his bones. That night, we decided to order chinese take-out and my youngest brother delivered it to the hospital. He couldn't come up to the room as Don was in isolation. Don wasn't able to eat much as he had been so sick and on IV for a week. I got a fortune cookie that said, "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." Sort of a horrifying thing to get and I didn't show it to Don although he asked what it said as we always got fortune cookies as a joke. I made up a different fortune and told him that instead. Anyhow, I won't ever be celebrating my birthday again -- ever.

  3. Dan - It always helps me to know I am not the only one out there with the same experience. And, like you, I encouraged my husband to be more thoughtful to his mother. At my husband's funeral, his mom went on and on about how generous and caring he had been to her with gifts. My gift to her was to let her hold on to that belief. I never admitted that it was I who had arranged for the floral deliveries, or who had actually shopped for and sent the other gifts.

    I like your ending sentence about finding true love again. I'm glad you believe in that and I'm still trying to hang on to that hope.

    Bev - I agree with you about your observations on available men. Those who seem to be interested in me do fall into that late 50s - 60s age group. The ones around my age, early 50s don't seem to be interested or available. But I do have concerns about falling in love with an older man because of not wanting to have to face illness or death again so soon. I figure it'll be more likely with an older man. So I have not responded to the interests of any men in this age group. My late husband was 10 years older and I'd prefer a man my age this next time around. But as you said, my last guy Sam, who is my age, doesn't want marriage or commitment right now because of child support issues and he says he is still trying to get over the divorce...

    I was very stuck by your explanation of why you won't celebrate birthdays now. Sometimes you just have to shake your head when events like the fortune cookie message unfold. Your tradition of Chinese food was very sweet and it was kind that you upheld it at the hospital. How long did your husband live after that hospitalization?

  4. I don't think I'd worry so much about a man's age as in his general health and if he takes care of himself and is very active. In truth, no one can be certain of how long they will live. Even when my husband was 55 or so, he looked so young and was in such incredible condition - looked at least 10 years young and could outrun most of the 30 year old guys he worked with -- he and I could hike and paddle all day and never feel tired. When he had his respiratory tests after he was diagnosed with cancer, his doctor always commented on how it almost seemed impossible that he was ill as he scored higher than most people who are well ever do. If he had not become ill, I think he would have been like his dad who was an active dairy farmer until he was 80 and got a different kind of cancer. Really, with cancer, it doesn't matter how young or old a person is, they can just get sick and die, so if you meet a 60 year old who is in super condition - someone like my husband or his dad - I wouldn't hold his age against him. So long as he doesn't get cancer, maybe he would live to be a very healthy 80 or even 90 year old. I think that when I look at my neighbours -- he is 87 and keeps a huge vegetable garden and works outdoors all day long. How lucky they have been. It's all just luck, or bad luck, that determines how long we live, but if someone is into fitness and cares about his body, a 60 year old is not old. Maybe you would find someone who is kind and considerate and loves life - and would love having some sons again, etc.. I think older husbands may just appreciate life a lot more than the 50 year olds who are still pretty obsessed with careers -- and also that whole "divorce" thing. There seem to be some pretty bitter men around. I'm not looking for anyone, but I certainly hear this a lot from the younger men. Who needs that kind of crap from a partner.

    My husband lived 10 months after he was diagnosed with cancer. We had just been in Nova Scotia on a hiking trip a couple of months before. I was recovering from surgery and he had to keep slowing down to wait for me on the trails. Who would have guessed that the little cough he had at that time was so serious and that he would be dead within a year. That's what I mean though -- age isn't really a good indicator of how long someone will be with you, so I think I would just ignore it completely and look for someone who is a very healthy, life-loving, youthful older guy if one happens to come your way.

  5. I'm sorry your birthday wasn't a happy one. Special days are tough. On my birthday this year I had friends over and asked everyone to give me a poem. Here's a birthday poem for you.

    Morning Poem by Mary Oliver
    Every morning
    the world
    is created.
    Under the orange

    sticks of the sun
    the heaped
    ashes of the night
    turn into leaves again

    And fasten themselves to the highest branches
    and the ponds appear
    like black cloth
    on which are painted islands

    of summer lillies.
    If it is your nature
    to be happy
    you will swim alway along the soft trails

    for hours, your imagination
    alighting everywhere.
    And if your spirit
    carries within it

    the thorn
    that is heavier than lead--
    if it's all you can do
    to keep on trudging--

    there is still
    somewhere deep in you
    a beast shouting that the earth
    is exactly what it wanted,

    each pond with its blazing lillies
    is a prayer heard and answered
    every morning,

    whether or not
    you have ever dared to be happy,
    whether or not
    you have ever dared to pray.

    Happy birthday, Love Thelma

  6. Thelma - My birthday wasn't terrible - just ho hum. Anyway, what a fantastic birthday idea to have friends over and to bring poems. Maybe next year I will try and plan a similar celebration. I love the Morning poem. Nice that a poem doesn't force the issue of trying to be happy and allows you to be where you're at, even if that involves carrying a thorn within!

  7. Thelma, what a beautiful poem. I am so moved by it.
    To WitM. I really relate to wanting your birthday to be a BIG deal. I would press my late husband to 'remember' it weeks ahead. Really, I just wanted to revel in his appreciation of me, and I did. Re marriage again -I also long for a man to be there for me when I get sick, as I was for my late husband while he had cancer. More than that I long for the tenderness expressed so easily between us. So I cry, knowing my tenderness is still there, just unexpressed toward a special person right now. My tenderness does have an outlet. I'm tender toward myself and my cats.
    I hope you can revel in yourself, because you are an amazing woman. Happy belated Birthday.

  8. I am so sorry that you were let down on your birthday. I know first hand how much that hurts. I think you should try and meet more single person. You honestly seem like such a kind person with a big heart and despite what you may think you have a lot to bring to a relationship. I don't think that you have to have a great job and/or feel less stressed about finances or less depressed in general to begin and have a healthy relationship. You can be making steps to improve all aspects of your life in the process. Of course your life is going to be in a poor place given the circumstances. I think the key is to concentrate on where it can be and getting there. I believe that just being out there and dating (fingers crossed your find someone really special) will make you feel more positive. Happy Belated Birthday.

  9. Bec - Thank you from the bottom of my heart for conveying such kind words. I like what you say about trying to improve all aspects of one's life. Why not? Also, love your insight about the key being able to concentrate on where my life can go and getting there. I am going to hold these words of encouragement close. They are great words of wisdom and comfort.