“Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It’s all about the memories.” – Buddy Valastro
Today is my father’s birthday. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. In the last few weeks, thoughts and memories of my dad have been especially strong.
On October 22, 2009, we were in midst of my father’s end of life journey. I was serving as his primary live-in caregiver and hospice support was put in place a few weeks earlier. I was determined to give my father one last special birthday filled with things he loved.
My aunt, his older sister, came to our home with a few cousins. We had some chocolate cake and ice cream and played my father’s favorite big band music in the background.
Although we were all feeling sad and uncertain if my dad even recognized that it was his birthday, we all had some special moments that are etched firmly in my memory. When we lit the candles on the cake, my father joined in the singing of “Happy Birthday.”
When we pointed out that it was his birthday and that he could blow out his candles, he smiled widly, laughed, and blew them all out. He then ate every last bite of his cake and ice cream with lots of joy in his eyes.
My aunt gave her brother a musical birthday card that played the birthday song. Throughout the rest of the day, evening, and even part of the next day, I shared the card with my father and he enjoyed it every time.
Vascular dementia robbed his short term memory so he could not remember prior experiences with the card, even if they happened less than 15 minutes apart. I probably told him at least 20 times that day that it was his birthday. We sang the birthday song each time with smiles and laughter like it was the first time. I had love and peace in my heart.
Practice Tip: Find special ways to enjoy the birthday of a loved one you are caring for. Keep it simple and let yourself experience the gratitude both through words and non-verbal communication.
If loved ones have passed away (as with both of my parents), choose to acknowledge their birthdays and anniversaries in whatever way feels comforting and right for you. There is no wrong way to do this. You might consider cooking a favorite meal, lighting a candle, writing a poem, planting a tree, or any other special activity. Or, you may choose to not do anything special except cry as you are so overcome by emotions. Again, there is no wrong way to mark the occasion. Just do what feels right for you and seek whatever support you need from others in your life that care about you.
Today, I have lit a candle and will eat a piece of chocolate cake in honor of my father. Happy Birthday, Dad!