My mom, 1918,  the baby before two more siblings followed.

My mom, Mary Elizabeth, 1918, the baby before two more siblings followed.


Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while  Dad holds their son.

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while Dad holds their son.

Last week’s topic was “Secrets of Success.”

This week’s topic is “How To Turn Disappointments Into Celebrations.”

Many years ago, a college acquaintance had a strange solution for any disappointment she faced: she made herself feel better by finding someone who was more disappointed and miserable than she was. For instance, when her boyfriend back home dumped her, she cheered up when she found someone else whose fiancé made a big deal of publicly ending their engagement on campus. She called this strategy “Being Glad You’re Not THAT Miserable,” and it seemed to work for her.

My birthday is at the end of this month…and it’s a BIG milestone birthday. Although I know my husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren will do something special, I also know my mother will not remember my birthday. Because of her dementia, she rarely remembers who I am any more or sometimes even where she is.  But it’s still sad that for the past seven years she’s had no memory of days that used to mean so much to her, including the day I was born.

Using the technique of my college acquaintance, I found these birthday disappointments of others: Paulina Porizkova was fired by “America’s Next Top Model” on her birthday, and actress Evan Rachel Wood said, “I’ll never forget my 24th birthday when my tooth got punched out…”   But the one that made me choke back tears was by actress/model/singer Amy Weber: “I lost twins at 14 weeks, and I had to have a D&C on my birthday.” 

I’ve never been good at feeling better because someone else felt worse.  The college acquaintance’s strategy didn’t work for me then, and it doesn’t work for me now. 

But I have found a way of creating my own happiness as I celebrate my birthday with my mother. When I drive to Kansas to visit her each month, I take along foods she might enjoy, fresh flowers or a plant. When I visit her each September, I take a cake or cupcakes. And candles. Sometimes ice cream, too.   And I sing “Happy Birthday to US” and light the candles (just a few candles…we don’t want a bon fire.)

Mom still enjoys blowing out candles, and she sometimes wants me to light them again so she can blow them out a second time. It’s our shared celebration—I’m the birthday girl; she’s the mother who gave birth to me—and at some point during my visit I tell her a story from when I was a child and she did something sweet, funny, poignant or wonderful. Usually she’ll smile and say something like, “That’s nice. Do I know her?”   She doesn’t know “her,” but I do.

Dementia prevents Mom from remembering when my birthday is or even who I am. Reality confirms that the woman who wanted so much to be a mother, and who suffered four miscarriages before she had her two children, went on to have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of us are here because she didn’t give up or bury her disappointments by finding other women who had even worse pains and more sadness.

So for my birthday again this year, we’ll celebrate the line of life. We’ll eat cake, blow out candles, smile and celebrate all the lives and loves that dementia cannot erase.   Happy Birth Day To Us.

1978 ~ Marylin holds her daughter Molly, Mary's granddaughter.

1978 ~ Marylin and her daughter Molly, Mary’s granddaughter.


2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of Dad's mother as a  toddler for her own toddlers, Mary's great-grandchildren.

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of her grandpa’s mother as a toddler for her own children, Mary and Ray’s great-grandchildren.


Filed under birthday celebrations, birthdays, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

76 responses to “CELEBRATE THE LINE

  1. Nancy Saltzman

    Hi Marylin. I will be singing Happy Birthday to you at the end of the month! As always, your blog made me reflect on my own behavior. I do sometimes cheer myself up by thinking, “Things could always be worse so I am grateful for what I have to deal with and nothing else”. I’m with you — I have never felt better when I heard about something bad that happened to someone else! Thanks for sharing your insight, love, and thoughts with us out here in computer land!

    • I think you and I realizing that things could be worse is different than what the college acquaintance did, Nancy. If was like a poorly written play, watching her seek out agony, humiliation and pain…and then come back to the dorm and dramatically retell it to everyone on our floor. She was ecstatic that their problems were so much worse than her own. It was almost creepy, and how the listeners reacted to the tales of misery was sometimes even more disconcerting.
      Thanks for the birthday wishes, Nancy!

  2. It’s so sad Marylin. If you tell your Mom the date does she remember it’d your birthday even if she doesn’t know it’s you with her? It’s a wonderful idea to have her blow the candles out, especially if it’s something she enjoys. I hope you have Wonderful Birthday regardless of your Mom’s inability to remember. You’re a wonderfil Lady and a wonderful daughter too.
    Much Love and Huge Hugs xxx

    • Actually, David, I have told her that it’s September 30th, and then even shared a detail she’d told me many years earlier, about going to the hospital, etc. She listens and sometimes nods or smiles, but it never quite sinks in. So we have cake or cupcakes, I sing Happy Birthday to Us and let her blow out the candles a couple of times if she wants, and that’s our party.
      I will have a wonderful birthday, David, and as always I thank you for your wonderful words and huge hugs!

  3. Marylin, I will also be singing Happy Birthday to you at the end of this month. If we all sing you have a chorus. Your blog has a way of connecting us with our own feelings and emotions. I never feel better over somebody else’s misfortune , just the opposite, my heart goes out to them. Your mom doesn’t recognize you any more but she still loves you. A big Birthday hug!

    • I’ll imagine that chorus, Gerlinde. Thank you. That’s so sweet. And you’re right, I think: my mom does still love me. Love is stronger and has heartfelt connections that don’t let go.
      I feel the birthday hug, too! Thank you.

  4. Carol

    This one made me cry remembering my mom’s dementia and how I worked through it.

  5. Wishing you a lovely birthday and a sweet celebration with your mother. It is sad that she won’t remember that it is an important birthday for her daughter. How did you and your mother celebrate birthdays before her Alzheimers? Did you have a sweet sixteen? Or a 21st? Did your mother want a special party when she was the same important age that you are going to be?

    • My mother always let us choose our favorite meal for our birthdays, Gallivanta. At breakfast she’d sing happy birthday and ask what we wanted for dinner, and then she’d also make a cake. That’s when we got to open our presents and cards. It wasn’t the big deal some birthdays are today, but it was special and very nice. For my 16th birthday Mom was in California taking care of my dad’s very ill step-mother, so our darling Italian neighbor and her children made me a special dinner and dessert, and then my friends took me out afterwards.
      When my mom turned 65, I came from Colorado with my daughter Molly, who was only 3, and after Dad took the family out to eat, she blew out the candles on the cake I’d made for her and we sang Happy Birthday.
      I’ll tell her that story again when I’m with her during this trip and see if it triggers a memory.

  6. A very happy BIG birthday Marylin. What a lovely way to think about celebrating. Let us hope that deep down there is a momentary flicker of remembrance in your mom’s mind, perhaps when she blows out the candles.

    • That’s what I’m hoping, too, Andrew. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but sometimes when she looks at me, blinks and smiles or touches my face, I think she has a flicker of a memory. Maybe I’ll light the candles three or four times and let her blow them out, and see if that helps. 🙂

  7. Jane Thorne

    Happy, happy Birthday lovely Marylin and I will blow some candles out for you too. X I think I would struggle to look for sadder stories. Like you, I prefer to look for the joy, even though it is tricky to spot sometimes. Your Mum’s face till light up when she blows the candles out and I can ‘hear’ her joyful request to do it again. Huge hugs for you both. Your post touched me deeply and I love your family photographs. My Grandad used to say that he would go and potter in his garden and greenhouse when life got tricky….with his hands in the soil the answers would float up. Whenever I read your posts and family stories I think of your Mum, in the early morning hours, out in her garden. Then gathering veggies in the early evening hours and your Dad going down to walk back in with her. Golden loving strands that are the fabric of your family today. Much love to you Birthday Girl and here’s to many more as you share your stories with us. ❤ xX

    • Thank you so much, Jane. Your Granddad going to the garden when life got tricky really does have a parallel with my mother in the early morning out in her garden, preparing for whatever the day brought.
      Your birthday blessing is so precious…and much appreciated.

  8. Happy birthday Marylin. I have no miracle strategies to offer, apart from counting your blessings, which you patently do. Enjoy the day and be glad that you can share your cake with your wonderful mother and give her the pleasure of blowing out the candles. Hugs xx

    • I do count this as one of my blessings, Catterel, and if my mom wants to blow out the candles again and again, then I’ll keep lighting them! We adjust to new rituals as they’re needed, don’t we? Thank you.

  9. What a beautiful photo of you holding your baby daughter Marylin as well as the one of you as a baby with your dear mom.
    I think of that song: “It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to!” in reading about some of these birthday disappointments and Lord knows I’ve had a few of those (but what a tragedy for Amy Weber. I hope that her future birthday brought great blessings to help heal her grief…)
    As you know, I celebrated my birthday last Wednesday and spent the day with my mum and daughter. When I think of the almost 20 years that I didn’t get to see my mum on my birthday because of the miles between us, I never take this for granted. Our birthdays are very much a two-fold celebration aren’t they as we celebrate not only our special day but our wonderful mothers who made it so. I love the thought of you and your mom blowing out the candles on your cake together and celebrating all that is still very much alive and kicking; the love, the smiles, the beauty in your memories as you share your special day with your mom and all that cannot be diminished by the dementia. Ahead of time, I wish for you the happiest of birthdays dear, sweet Marylin and that your heart will be filled with joy in the love of and for your dear family and friends as they surround you and that your day will be filled with blessings galore ❤

    • Sherri, your comments remind me of one of the things I love most about blogging. We share our stories, and they trigger similar truths from others, and as we’re reading them and smiling and gulping at touching details, we realize how deeply connected we all are. You certainly do understand the two-fold birthday celebrations with our mothers, Sherri, and also now with our daughters as well.
      I think that September birthday girls must be very special!
      Thank you, sweetie.

  10. I hope you have a BIG cake for your BIG birthday. Funny how some birthdays seem bigger than others. Yet when the next big one comes along the previous one doesn’t seem nealy so bad, and the one before that positively inconsequential.
    Happy birthday for the end of the month. BTW Lovely photos

  11. The celebrity birthday disappointments you shared were poignant, but like your other readers, I’m glad you don’t you mantra “feeling better because someone else felt worse” as your standard for moving toward acceptance.
    Like you, gratitude for what I still have helps me weather disappointments and set-backs.

    I like the quote by Madeleine l’Engle: The great thing about birthdays is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. So, Marylin, you can be 16 again!

    You have a great store of photos to choose from. Like the progression on this post. Most importantly, Happy Burfday!

    • What a perfect quote, Marian. Is that from her book A WRINKLE IN TIME? I love it.
      I would not choose to be 16 again, not unless I could know then what I know now. Sixteen was not my favorite age. Maybe 18 would be a better choice. 😉
      Thank you, Marian, for the quote and the birthday blessing.

  12. Happy Birthday to you both 🙂

  13. Wishing you a beautiful birthday, filled with joy and love. And a scrumptious cupcake! 🙂 ❤

  14. juliabarrett

    I guess I’m like you – the unhappiness of others does not make me happy. It does make me realize we each carry our own burdens. Or, I guess you could say, we each have our cross to bear.
    I feel lucky. I am happy.
    Happy birthday, Marylin. You deserve much love and joy. You know what makes me happy? Forgetting my own birthday! Do it every year.

    • Amazing, Julia! Do you really forget your own birthday each year?
      When I was a single parent, even then I would set aside some quiet time and work backwards, remembering as many birthday celebrations as I could. Not presents or cards, but the people in my life…and the cake or pie or cupcake–always with a candle–and I would also try to remember the wish I made when I blew out the candle.

      • juliabarrett

        Yes. Everyday is a birthday and a not-birthday. I just don’t think about it. Which is why, when people ask my age, I have to stop and add. 🙂

      • I love it! For many years I held tight to 37 because it just “felt” like the age I was, but now that’s REALLY stretching it, by decades. But stopping to count and remember how old you actually are sounds like a full life where age numbers don’t mean anything. You’ve inspired me

  15. Lovely post, and as usual, you made me think. No, I’d never feel better by someone else’s misfortune. Although your Mom doesn’t remember you, she is still able to share your special day in some way. And I agree, mothers should celebrate the birthdays of their offspring just as much as they’d celebrate their own. Wishing you many, many happy returns on your special big day – I hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful celebration because you are a lovely warm person Marylin, so giving to everyone else, that you more than deserve to mark your big anniversary in style. Have a good one! Lots of love from across the miles xxxxxx

  16. Claudia

    I don’t think your college pal’s plan would work for me either. But your optimism in face of difficult situations is a role model for sure! I, too, am facing a biggie this October. Never thought this would come but come it did and TOO fast. As for you, Marilyn, don’t worry about turning 40 as it isn’t a bad year! Smile.

    • 40, Claudia? 😉 I hardly remember my 40th birthday, Claudia, it was so long ago. And you’re right: I never thought this age would come so fast! But I have no complaints. Age is a number…and more candles on a cake, right? 🙂

  17. A huge Happy Birthday from Texas!! Wonderful way to celebrate ~

  18. You may have mentioned it in an earlier post, but I didn’t know your mother had four miscarriages before you and your brother were born. This fact adds another layer to my admiration for her. No wonder she had such zeal and respect for life and motherhood. She knew well that they both are gifts.

    • Yes, four miscarriages. And you’re right, they did teach her that both life and motherhood were gifts. Her siblings and friends were having big families while she was going through the miscarriages, but my grandmother once told me that instead of making my mother sad to see all the others having babies, it made her truly happy for them, and she always delivered the new baby gifts in person, and tenderly held the infants, trusting that her time would come.
      I don’t know how she did it, Darla. It adds another layer of my admiration for her, too, as well as amazement.

      • She must have just trusted that God had a plan for her, and that for some reason His plan included heartache. She accepted it, brought happiness to others, and then received her reward in you and your brother. And when she seems Him face to face, it will all become clear. I believe that.

      • I believe we all will have our answers then, Darla, and we’ll be amazed and grateful.

  19. Your mom sure is an admirable lady Marylin. I don’t know if I would have had the hope and faith required to keep on trying after four miscarriages. But, Mary did, and her courage was rewarded with two beautiful children. That’s something to celebrate! I wish you and Mary a very special, happy moment as you sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out the candles. And, Happy Birthday Marylin… may you have many more!

  20. Happy Birthday to you Marilyn. I do hope it’s a very special day for you.

    You found a wonderful solution when celebrating with your Mom. I agree that I don’t feel better by comparing my misfortunes to others. But I have looked at someone else’s troubles and realized I didn’t have much to complain about. I think there’s a fine “line” there. 🙂

    • It is a fine line, Judy, especially when we’re in pain and looking for answers. During sad times, it’s human nature to search for relief. But the college acquaintance actually seemed to take joy in others’ pain.
      Before writing this post, I hadn’t even thought about her in many years, but now I wonder how she is…and if this is still her “style.”

  21. Personally, I couldn’t relate to your college friend’s solution of searching for more disappointment in others and I don’t think your mother would either. I don’t know your mother, Marylin, I only know her through your words, but I’m sure she didn’t find peace in another’s person’s struggles. Light those candles and both of you blow them out…she’ll know, somewhere deep inside, she’ll know. Happy Birthday, Marylin, you’re a wonderful daughter! xo

    • You’re very right about my mom, Jill. If she felt sad about something and saw someone else in worse pain, I think she’d actually put aside her problems and try to help the other person. And that would probably put things in perspective. For sure, I know she would search for others’ pain in the hopes that it would make her happier.
      Thank you for the birthday blessing, Jill.

  22. Hudson Howl

    Élevée sur une branche, deux petits oiseaux se réjouir dans un morceau de la vie et de l’amour. Come the end of September, I’ll will listen closely.

  23. I absolutely love my birthday every year and people think I’m nuts. It’s because two of my friends died of breast cancer when we were in our mid twenties and all they wanted was to stay alive so they could watch their children grow up. I promised them I’d celebrate every year for them. I feel so lucky that I am still here and can’t wait for 60, 70, 80, 90! Every year as I get older I get happier because I’ve made it 😀

    Have a beautiful birthday and congratulations for being here to see it xxxxx

    • Thank you for this, Dianne! Really. Your promise to your friends is very touching. To celebrate every year for them is a sacred and loving commitment. You give the birthday issue a new perspective. Bless you!

  24. I wouldn’t be happy thinking someone else was worse off than me but I can empathize with you over this post. My mother had Alzheimers for several years towards the end of her life and one time when I visited her, from the other side of the world, she thought I was a nurse who had given her a lovely gift. Sad for me but lovely for her to think that there were such caring people looking after her.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Judith, my mom will pat my arm and smile and tell me I’m “just the nicest girl.” I’ve decided that’s a very nice thing, considering her dementia. And like you, I’m glad she has good caregivers and is happy with the people around her. Thank you for sharing about your mother.

  25. Oh Marylin, Happy Birthday! Your positive attitude towards life is amazing. I hope you have a very BIG piece of cake with your mom and enjoy blowing out every candle! xo Joanne

  26. Jim

    Alzheimer’s is so cruel. How difficult it is, Marylin, for you and your brother to visit your mom, who is very much alive and has personality but asks, “Do I know you?” Your blog is a wonderful example of how one can transform the trial and tribulation of Alzheimer’s into something beautiful and meaningful for our family as well as others who have loved-ones suffering from this relentless disease. The private celebration of your birthday with your mom is both touching and inspiring.

    Note: (Please forgive a layman’s attempt to paraphrase the following report.) There was a news report yesterday (Sept 14, 2014) that a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research may be on the horizon. It has something to do with discovering that the gene aberration that produces Alzheimer’s may be associated with the gene that produces Down’s Syndrome. Scientists made the discovery because Down’s people are living nowadays much longer lives, long enough to develop Alzheimer’s. Scientists feel they may now be able to target where and how the offending protein of Alzheimer’s is produced, which may allow them to develop the means to inhibit or stop its production. If only!

  27. Thanks, honey. In both of our families we’ve had beloved parents and aunts and uncles who struggle against diseases at the end of their lives, and you’ve been my role model about helping make the most of their lives.
    This new breakthrough will help both Alzheimer’s victims and those who are born with Down’s Syndrome, so we’ll all be praying for the results.

  28. What a wonderful way to make a positive celebration of your birthday in the circumstances Marylin. It must be very difficult to know that the one person to whom your birthday means the most, doesn’t remember it, but as usual you have a way of turning the situation around. Hoping you have a great celebration.

    • Thank you, Andrea. Reading your wonderful post on the changes in the trees, weather and life in the autumn made me realize that this is just another “change” in the seasons of life. Mom gave me life, and now I’ll enjoy visiting her and celebrating her life–even as she believes she’s back on the farm with her siblings–and when we sing and have cake and blow out candles together, we’ll be celebrating both of our lives.
      and celebrate

  29. A beautiful post, Marylin! Happy birthday to you! I hope your day is as special as you are. I am envisioning you visiting Mary and blowing out candles over and over and giggling until tears come. Tears of joy and tears of sadness for the lack of coherency of the present moment. Your stories are such a gift to us all! Blessings and hugs, Robyn

  30. Blessings and hugs to you, too, Robyn, for your kind words. Your image of Mom and me blowing out the candles and giggling is an image I’ll hold on to; we’ll have a great birthday celebration.

  31. I love your grateful attitude, Marylin. I’ll bet you inherited that from your mother! x

  32. Marylin, you weave such grace with your words. May the excitement and joy of celebrating life never depart from you. 🙂

  33. Happy Birthday, Marylin. I was in the hospital for my 40th, grateful to be alive. My 50th was in the nursing home with my mother. I guess I had a quiet day for my 60th (2013). I love your truth about all that dementia cannot erase. I have to believe there are mysteries . . .Love, Ellen

    • This is my 65th, Ellen, and my mom knows me not as her daughter but as “the nicest girl.” We accept whatever our birthdays bring and are grateful for another year, right?
      Thank you for your beautiful poems you share on your blog, Ellen.

  34. Diana Stevan

    fMarylin, I hope you have a very Happy Birthday. How wonderful that you’re sharing the news of your special day with all of us. I know what you mean about having some sadness that your mother no longer knows. My mother didn’t have dementia but when she got to her 90s, bless her, she could no longer could keep track of any family celebratory days.

    Your post of your friend’s way of dealing with disappointment on her birthday reminded me of the time my daughter was in a film with a well known actress, who will remain nameless. This actress’s birthday is on Sept. 11th. Way before the two towers were struck on that day, we had her over for dinner and I got a birthday cake for her as she was far away from home. We had just finished singing her happy birthday and the telephone rang. I learned that my father had just died. She left rather quickly as I had to pack to fly home to Winnipeg. I’ve always wondered how she felt about that day. And then, to learn years later, that her birthday was again a day when tragedy struck, I felt sad for her. She’s a lovely young woman, and I hope that those events didn’t forever spoil her special day.

    As for you, dear generous Marylin, I hope your day is full of good wishes, much joy and love. You have the gift of wonderful memories of many birthdays shared with your mother. Enjoy.

    • Thank you so much, Diana, for the birthday wishes, and also for sharing that touching insight into the memories–happy and sad–that we connect to special dates. One of my former students was so sad about her birthday being on Sept. 11 that she celebrated her birthday on the 12th. On the 11th she volunteered at the homeless mission and soup kitchen.

  35. The circle of life goes on no matter what. My oldest granddaughter gave birth to her daughter the day we buried my dad. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday as you celebrate with your mom this year! What a lovely way to handle this situation.

    • Oh, Darlene, you and Diana both have sad memories about dates that should have been celebrations. In your case, I hope your dad looked down and smiled at the new little life of his great-great-granddaughter.

  36. Happy birthday to you. I have read several of your posts and I am touched by your relationship with your mother. you are a good daughter to a great mother. Your posts are inspiring.

  37. Happy Birthday to you on September 30th! May your day be filled with many blessings. I like the ritual of the candles you have with your mom.
    Hugs to both of you!

  38. Pingback: Homepage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s