I spent tonight like I did last year on the eve of my 30th. In the tub, soaking in lukewarm water and self-pity, staring at my toes and wishing my sorrows would swirl away down into the drain, and into the cold currents of Lake Ontario never to be seen again.
My parents produced an over-achiever who never believes she's accomplished enough with each passing year. They also produced a woman who quickly forgets that wisdom ought to be preferred over youth. This year, instead of stewing over what new age-defying face cream I needed to buy or how many more sports I'd have to play to prove that I still could, I knew I needed to get a grip. And then I remembered how I spent my birthday last year.
I spent it with my brother-in-law, Buck. He's been the subject of a few of my blogs in the past year. On December 14th of 2009, he was bed-ridden in his home with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Each day mattered, and with each day came the hope that his alternative cancer treatment would start to show results. He was probably the most optimistic of us all. Until that night.
I hadn't seen him so helpless to care for himself. I was determined to make the visit as cheerful as possible and brought over my left-over birthday cake from the office knowing what a sweet tooth he had. I cut a big slice for him and poured him a fresh drink pushing it to the edge of the coffee table. Close enough so that he wouldn't have to reach too far and yet far enough so that he would still feel he could do something for himself.
He swallowed it in Buck style. Swiftly and with gusto. Everyone tried to keep the conversation light, but he wasn't having it that night. For the first time since his diagnosis he used the phrase, "if I don't make it," and told us about one of his biggest concerns and wishes. His brother and sisters sat in sombre silence not knowing how to respond. He didn't want to be dismissed or told, "don't talk like that, of course you're gonna make it." He wanted to be heard. This time, the funny guy who couldn't ever get through a meal-time prayer without snickering, wanted to be serious. I knew it and I assured him that his wish would be honoured. A month later when he passed, we kept that promise.
And tonight, on the eve of my birthday, I've got my grip and my much-needed perspective. He didn't live to see his 28th and so I dedicate my 31st to him. I can't light up a room like he did but I'll try and make more fart jokes in his great honour.
Buck and me on my 27th birthday. As always, he stole the show.