As my Aunt Aggie nears her 100th birthday on June 8th, I have been thinking a lot about birthdays and what they mean to different people. There are those who shun their birthdays as they’d rather not face the annual reminders that they are aging. Others awake bright and cheerful on the mornings of their birthdays. For them it is a special day and they want to enjoy everything the day brings their way.
Our attitude to our own birthdays was likely ingrained during our childhood birthdays. At home we learned how a birthday should be celebrated – or not. Some families make little fuss over birthdays and forgo the gifts and the cake. Others always celebrate on the day or on the closest weekend, complete with dinner, cake, music, and even games.
I am a firm believer in our need to be positive and have happiness in our lives. So any event we can look forward to in our daily lives is a plus. For me, a birthday is a positive event that I should feel good about. I have always tried to instill this value in my children down through the years. I learned this from my parents, grandparents, and my second mother – Aunt Aggie.
Aggie was never married but all the years I was growing up and later, she always hosted a big family birthday ‘picnic’ party in her back yard. She always chose a Sunday to celebrate – often the Sunday prior to her birthday. The fact that her 100th birthday this year falls on a Sunday brought tears to my eyes as I remembered all those Sunday birthday parties of Aggie’s. Significantly, all of her nieces and nephews never fail to remember her birthday. Aggie’s parties were special.
Aggie has raised the issue of her birthday party this year to me several times in the past few weeks. Somehow, despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s, this lady knows that this one is special. Last week she confided in me that God called her to Himself the night before. She told me that she refused – that she wasn’t ready. She told God that she wanted this one last birthday party to say goodbye to her family. Aggie so loved her parties! She’d open her gifts with excitement and pleasure, wringing every last drop of joy from her special days.
The staff at The Westmount Long Term Care home love Aggie deeply. Like us, her family, they fight back the tears as the topic of her birthday surfaces. They know how important this birthday is to her, but like us, they fear she may not make it. She rarely eats anything and this past weekend, the doctor put her on oxygen.
I hold on to hope as I keep in mind that Aggie has a very strong spirit – the strongest I’ve ever known. She’s in bed when we visit now, dozing much of the time. She has some lucid moments. This morning she spoke to me about having a baby. She wanted to know if it was painful. I’ve often wondered if she regretted not having her own children. She raised me from a baby and she helped raise our three children. So, today I reminded her that she was always a mother to me. She smiled weakly and said, “I know.” Children and animals were always important to Aggie.
My Aunt Aggie has lived as full a life as anyone, and she has given of herself more than anyone I know. She has a special place in my heart and always will. I wrote this poem for her…
A face. An elderly face, creased and gnarled by the years
Her face – a big thick book – turn the pages of time
Laughter, worry, fears, all mapped in tears
A century – a hundred years.
But the years have been gentle and kind
Her inner spirit has come through her mind
Her eyes and caring smile
Linger on for a long while
She is tiny – but her spirit indomitable!
Aggie has lived almost a hundred years –
A wealth of experience of living she’s had
Sharing all the family joys and tears
Matriarch of our family she’s been
Never wed, but all of us her children
Our troubles and trials she took to her heart
Guiding us always to home and to hearth.
Aggie you have been a boon to us all
Your family, we stand so straight and so tall
We love you for all you are and have done
Have a great 100th birthday – and lots of fun.