26 may 2015
Sixty-six years ago, I was my mother’s 22nd birthday gift . She said I came out kicking and screaming (or so she was told – she was out cold at the moment I took my first gulp of air) at 5:19 in the evening. That she spent her birthday laboring in a hospital bed is surely a testament to the power of love – or at least, motherhood.
She named me Catharine – after the four generations of strong women who had come before me. The fifth in an illustrious line, she spelled my name in the same fashion as my great-grandmother, Catharine Amanda Barndollar Weber. Her mother, Katherine Anna Morgan Barndollar, her daughter, Catherine Gretchen Weber Stevenson, and my mother, Kathryn Dale Stevenson Cooper Wright, were variations on the theme.
For 65 exquisite years, my mother and I shared the same birthday. As her oldest child and her namesake, I couldn’t help but feel special each and every year. Photos in the family album show us sitting side by side on my first birthday – her 23rd – with two separate birthday cakes. She has 23 candles to blow out ; I have just one. Through the years, our clothing changed, my size changed, the color and style of her hair morphed with the times, and the number of candles on our cakes increased, but always, the two cakes and two sets of wishes to be made. Me and my mom. My mom and me. One special day.
When I was ten, I realized that this unique relationship would someday come to an end; that I would outlive my mother, and at some point, I would have to fly solo on my birthday. While my child-mind grasped the concept, my heart never embraced the inevitability, until mom passed away in October last year. Suddenly, what I had silently dreaded, what I had never given name to or spoken about with my mother, became a reality.
So this is the one. That never-desired year. The empty day.
When I woke, it was as if one half of me was missing. Like an arm or a leg, but more clearly, some chunk of my heart.
I did not begin the day as in years past, by dialing her number and singing “Happy Birthday” into the phone. We did not join our voices together when we got to the final verses, “Happy Birthday Dear Mom/Cathie, Happy Birthday to US!”
I know she wouldn’t want me to be sad. I know that, like I know the touch of her hand to my cheek, the turned up corners of her twinkling blue eyes, the way she said repeatedly, “Everything’s going to work out just fine.”
She was here, last year. Here with me, and my sister, Claudia, in my Baja home. She’d asked what I wanted for my birthday and I’d bravely replied, even knowing she’d pretty much sworn off air travel, that I wanted them to be here, in Loreto, to celebrate. She nearly jumped out of her chair and said, “Great! I better get my passport renewed.” We brought the dog, stacks of luggage, and ate, walked, did jigsaw puzzles, cocktailed with friends and pretty much had the time of our lives. Our last birthday together, the most perfect one ever.
When I woke this morning, it was quiet inside my head. I let my thoughts drift to the miracle of having a mother, of being born and nurtured, scolded and applauded, challenged and soothed … of never doubting her love. I let myself feel with her, roll with her, laugh with her, whisper with her, and realized, that I am not really alone. She’s always going to be here with me, here inside, until I take my last breath. She’s only as far away as my heart.