I knew this day would come, but it had never crossed my mind just how empty it would really feel to celebrate my father’s birthday without him for the first time. Many times over the last several months I have found small things that remind me of him. A song, a movie, a play… that whole thing about the dead lingering on their influence upon the living has never ringed truer than that. But today, even the air smells different and the sense of absence has never been more present than this.
I can’t remember the last time we made a big deal of his birthday. I have memories of my mom throwing him an Oscar-themed surprise party when I was in my early teens and welcoming his friends at a fancy bar across the street from our house when I was in college but, other than those, march 27th was always marked by small celebrations with just us – my mother, my brother, me and him – at home, with good food, good laughs and a bottle of Jack Daniels shared between us to the last drop – to my mother’s annoyance. If we had been feeling specially celebratory we’d pop in a movie we had already seen 100 times together and pause it every 5 minutes to have some existencial conversation powered by the aforementioned bottle of Jack. That was it and it suited us perfectly. We never needed much more to have fun. We shared simple tastes for the small joys in life.
Last year, however, everything was put on hold. His birthday happened on Easter Sunday, he was finishing rounds of both chemo and radiotherapy, he had a feeding tube attached to him and couldn’t either speak or eat. The rest of us had a sad Easter lunch while he sat quietly in his TV room alone, with ready eyes, ignoring the date as hard as he could. That day, my mother told him that having an Easter birthday was a sign that he would have. New beginning soon. He ripped out his feeding tube soon after that and on the days that followed he got stronger for the last time before getting worse again for the last time. Had he known that would be his last birthday, he might have attempted to celebrate some, but as he never allowed himself to admit defeat, he never even considered the possibility. And so, this year, I am left to celebrate this day with merely the memory of him.
I wish I could say on this day that I am flooded with memories of his best days but, in reality, every time I close my eyes the image that comes over me is that of the last time I saw him, looking frail and small in his coffin, already gone. I hope with time that fades away and I return to remember him as the superman he had been in life – big, strong, fearless and with an inate ability to inspire me to equally strong.
Today, I have made plans to spend the day with him. I will visit the one place in London he always dreamed of visiting, I will drink in his honour at a secret bar by my favourite place in the city and I will watch the movie we so frequently shared together, singing our songs and letting tears runs free with the laughter that I know we would share together if we could. Someone once told me that one person dies a total of three times. The first death occurs when their body fails them and their hearts stops. The second death happens when their casket is closed and they are last seen. The final death is to happen when their names are said for the last time and they are forever forgotten. If I can help it, I will make him immortal. I will celebrate him and I will tell his stories and, for all I know, his memory will never be lost.
Happy 59th Birthday, Dad. How I wish you were here….