Remembering My Mother on My Birthday

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Today we're turning our blog over to Everplans' Contributing Editor Lauren Thaler Kahn. Lauren is the founder of Punchwell Press, an editorial-driven marketing company based in San Francisco. Lauren's mother died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, and her father died from complications associated with cancer when she was a baby. She blogs about her experience at My Infinity Game.


When I was a kid, my mother would sneak into my bedroom the night before my birthday. She’d carefully set up little signs, banners and balloons all around my room so that the first thing I saw when I woke up would be her birthday wishes for me. I’d make my way into the bathroom and see that she’d replicated her festive display there, and in my closet, and in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure she loved my birthday more than her own. 

Three years ago, while my mom lay in bed 13 days before her death, I woke up on January 10th to the same time honored birthday tradition. The handwriting wasn’t my mother’s, but with the help of her nurse she made sure that I was surrounded by her birthday love when I woke up. 

That day, my 27th birthday, was difficult. My mother wanted me to have a celebration, filled with friends, cake and singing. I didn’t want any of that. But I did it for her. I went out in the morning and bought my own birthday cake and snacks and paper plates while she lay in bed. When people started singing, and the cake came out glowing brightly with birthday candles, I couldn’t hold back my tears, and I left the room. My mother followed me, helped by her friends who half carried her, half walked her to find me. 

I was celebrating my birthday for her, and she was celebrating my birthday for me. We were both trying to be strong, but the tragedy of it all just came crashing down that day. Neither of us could carry on the celebratory charade any longer. We hugged, cried and finished out the day quietly. 

After my birthday, my mother deteriorated quickly. Four days later she stopped talking and seven days later she slipped into a cancer coma. I think she used her last ounce of strength to live for my birthday that year. 

Yesterday marked my third birthday since her death, and I was finally in the mood to celebrate. January has been a dark month for the last two years, but for whatever reason—maybe it’s simply the passage of time or maybe it’s that I’m getting used to accruing life experiences without her—this month doesn’t sting like it did last year. 

You see, the older I get the more I turn into someone who is different from the daughter I was when she died. There are three years of Lauren my mother will never know. As the years start piling up, my new experiences—everything from my wedding, my business, and new friendships to the iPhone 5, Homeland and Hurricane Sandy—are whisking me away into the future, a place that’s farther and farther away from my mother.

My birthday still brings up difficult memories, but as time goes by it becomes more and more meaningful to experience things like my birthday with people who are on this ride with me. It also means that I am better equipped to find things to fill the void of her absence. I woke up to sunshine yesterday, which doesn’t necessarily beat my mom’s cheerful birthday décor, but in San Francisco sunshine is always a good sign.

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