Tuesday, August 11, 2015

my dark day

For the many of us who have lost someone special, there are certain days of the year that make it hard to keep on moving forward, to keep on growing old. The deceased's birthday or the anniversary of the day he/she died is almost always harder for us than all other days in a given year. But since losing my older brother, the hardest day of the year for me has always been MY birthday. That's right, my own birthday. I still recognize my brother's birthday, the day of his diagnosis, and the day of his death. I light a Yahrtzeit candle. My family goes to the cemetery. We mark these events the same way everyone else does.

But the hardest day of the year, for me, is the day I turn yet another year older. Older than my big brother. From my perspective, he stopped aging at age 30. The day I turned 30, two and a half years after Dave passed away, I was a mess. But then I was okay. I was surrounded by good friends, who raised money for Brain Tumor Research. Well, I thought, I finally caught up to you big brother. Thirty's not so bad. 

But then I turned 31. I had officially outlived my older brother. I didn't do a single celebratory thing that day. I think I ate Taco Bell and went to bed early. I just didn't want to be around anyone else on my "dark day."

So last week, when I turned 35, I just felt awful. Turning another year older, I always feel awful. I'm used to it now. I can see it coming. And I do my usual ignoring of the inevitable, "what are we doing for your birthday" texts.  Because, let's face it: I'm now 35 and my big brother is 37 still 30. 

I know Dave would never want me to sit at home on this special day and wallow in my sadness. I don't do that (anymore, at least). I go out to dinner. I try to run a race or be outside. I try to learn something new, or travel to a different location. But I know this day is still going to be excruciatingly hard. And often the days leading up to the birthday are even harder. 

Sometimes I just disappear off the grid for a few days. Frequently, I try to ignore the darkness that I know is inevitably coming. Other times I just let the sadness envelop me and sit at home and cry. Mostly, though, I've learned to be honest with people. I find myself saying more and more to my close friends and family, "you know, my birthday is just a really hard day for me." They don't have to know why it's my dark day. They can just nod and move on. Knowing that the next year they will still ask me what I'm doing for my birthday. Because that milestone will come, whether I like it or not.

A few days after my birthday, I saw a former Business school classmate celebrating her 30th birthday. With a giant party. And a huge close-up photo of the stitches in the side of her head. And an announcement that, after eight years of beating her tumor, her brain tumor (just like Dave's) had morphed into the dreaded Glioblastoma (GBM 4 for short). She referred to her tumor as terminal and at that point, something changed inside my head. No, not really. I can't change my whole temperament that quickly. But I did have a bit of a reality check.

This lovely young lady is actually the true definition of a fighter. She will forever remind me of why we (I) need to celebrate life. And never give up. Regardless of her diagnosis, her words are always filled with hope and I love seeing her smiling face when we meet up in Golden Gate Park for the Brain Tumor 5K (almost every year). Next year, I will complete the race for her. But I know she will still be here to ring in yet another birthday, to complete yet another milestone. And she will once again remind me that it is not about feeling sorry for myself. It is about celebrating the gift I receive by being able to turn yet another year older.

#curegbm #greymatters #curebraincancer #braincancerawareness