So many of us have celebrated a birthday during the pandemic it ought not to feel unusual, unfair, or unhappy. Mine, long ago in the early spring, was a lovely day. On Monday my beloved Doug turned 65, and I had a bit of a wobble.
I struggle with the idea of “choosing to be happy” but I always strive to be cheerful. I’m aware that “happiness” and “cheerfulness” are considered synonyms for each other; in my own personal dictionary I think of happiness as the opposite to Depression (not a choice), and cheerfulness as an opposite to gloominess (which I do consider to be a choice). At best, pedantic, but really . . . nonsensical. (I’m not alone: see any debate about the difference between the colour grey and the colour gray!)
It wasn’t the pandemic, though that didn’t help. Last year my family celebrated with us in the dining room; we had presents, and lunch, and cake, and bunting. This year we had cards, and a cupcake, just the two of us in his bedroom. I read all the emails from all his friends, and delivered all their hugs. With every hug, I gave thanks: I am aware that for too many people, Covid has stollen the opportunity to hug their loved ones.
Once one of Doug's nicknames was Cheerful Man; it suited him perfectly. He was, and is, cheerful most of the time.
It was the progression of the Dementia. Doug gave no indication that he understood it was his birthday, or what a birthday means.
I’m not going to search #thisiswhat65lookslike but I’m sure that hashtag exists. And, like so many hashtags, I suspect it’s an abbreviation - I would understand that the user really means “this is what my version of 65 looks like” or “this is what I look like at 65” (or maybe even: “hey, this is what you could look like at 65 if you make the same choices I've made around diet/ exercise/ wardrobe/ cosmetic surgery . . .”)
In the olden days 65 was a milestone of sorts - an age when people might consider retiring. Now - is 65 the new 55? Or perhaps it’s even the new 45? Again, I’m not going to search, but I’m sure there are lists of people who made dramatic positive changes to their lives after they turned 65: started a new career, married, published their first book, (men who) had children . . .
There will be no great changes to Doug's life.
I was sad. Sad for all of Doug’s, and our, unfulfilled dreams. Sad for the futures - his, ours, mine - which will be so different from the ones we’d hoped for. Sad for the plans we made which will never come to fruition. The difference between what might have been, and what is.
I excused myself to have a little cry, dry my tears, and find a smile. Then I looked through a scrapbook with him and talked about all the wonderful times we’ve shared. I retold the story of his birthday weekend in Paris a few years ago, when he mistakenly caught an earlier Eurostar than the one we were booked on. (Terrifying at the time, funny after I knew he was OK.)
When I was leaving, I gave him a hug . . . and he hugged me back. It wasn’t my birthday, but that was the very best present I could have asked for.
Onwards, with love.