It’s my birthday tomorrow. But apart from it being my birthday month, July is also full of other anniversaries significant to me and my loved ones. These anniversaries and memories trigger complex and seemingly contradictory emotions: a coming together and co-existence of happiness, sadness, loss, pleasure and reflection. I’ve struggled with reconciling these feelings in recent years, but today, while mowing the lawn with our back-breaking push mower in the fresh cold winter air, I felt a shift within, a moment of calm and acceptance. As you get older, life becomes very different, experiences are repeated and layered, contradictions have to be able to co-exist in order to be integrated into ourselves, if we are to get on with life at all.
Today, the eve of my birthday, is also the sixth anniversary of my father-in-law’s death: an event that was unexpected, shocking and intensely sad. My partner’s sister’s birthday is July 27. Six years ago, her father was buried on that day. My own father, who died less than nine months after my father-in-law, is keenly missed on my birthday, as are my grandparents and my Nanna. I miss their cards, phone calls and presents, but not because I miss getting “stuff”. It’s because I miss them. Those things are absent because they are absent.
And yet countering all this, new life emerges, as it always does. My partner has another sister, and she is pregnant with her second child. Her first child was born on July 17 two years ago; a few days ago we celebrated her birthday. Life persists, the cycle of life (and death) keeps repeating itself. July used to be significant for me in different ways: much simpler, happier ways. Birthdays meant parties, simple, child-like joy and receiving focused attention from parents and family. July was also the birth month of numerous cousins and school friends, many born the same month as me. It was a joyous time and I loved it.
Birthdays are different for me now, and I’m OK with that. It’s part of getting older, it’s part of experiencing life and loss and integrating all of those complexities, about creating a new self that accommodates sadness and loss, as well as happiness and pleasure. Tomorrow I will experience another birthday, and I will focus on simple pleasures and appreciating life in the moment.