Today is not my birthday.
Until further notice, do not wish me a happy birthday on the internet. It’s nothing personal, I’m just not going to be having birthdays for awhile.
I mean, according to public record, on this day 32 years ago I was brought into the world, sure.
Since I was old enough to understand what a birthday is, I’ve always known that I was born on my mother’s 41st birthday. Since then, the woman whom I refer to on the internet as #MamaKibbe and I have always had this ongoing joke about how some years I would be the only one to have a birthday so she didn’t have to get any older. It makes me laugh every time she says, “You take this birthday. I’m getting too old!”
She always makes me laugh. I often tweet the ridiculous things she says. She says the same about me from time to time when we talk on the phone. Not that she tweets the stupid things I say, but that I make her laugh.
I talk to #MamaKibbe on the phone almost every day. This is partially because I was raised to be a good Southern Lady who takes good care of her mama, but mostly because my mother is starting to lose her memory. This is because #MamaKibbe has been diagnosed with dementia.
It’s mostly her short term memory, which, for our minimum 15 minute daily phone calls, can be exhausting. Hearing the same stories and being asked the same questions gets incredibly hard to handle. I don’t know how my family in Orlando survives it without the comfort of hiding behind the phone, where I feel myself making exasperated faces and frustratedly shaking my head.
Yesterday, while catching up with #MamaKibbe on the way to the gym (our daily routine), I was sharing details of the upcoming birthday celebrations I’ve been planning with friends. We both love making a big fuss over our birthday. In fact, the day I came into the world, I interfered with a big birthday party being thrown at a restaurant.
“When is our birthday?” she asked.
I know how days can blend together if nothing terribly exciting is going on, so I reminded her that Wednesday was our birthday and joked about how “super old” she was going to be at age 73. But then she asked again.
She asked me when her birthday was 4 times in 3 minutes. It wasn’t frustrating. It was heartbreaking.
The woman who taught me that “everyone has a right to be wrong,” and that “being cute gets you stuff,” is losing little pieces of herself bit by bit.
This person who taught me sayings that, while they are hysterical and outlandish, aren’t terribly inaccurate, now has trouble remembering to feed herself to the point where we’ve had to hire a caretaker to come in and help with meals and her medication. It’s like watching her trying to hold a pitcher of water being poured into her hands — no matter how much she manages to hold onto, there’s so much that gets past her now.
I’ve decided it’s time for me to stop having birthdays for awhile.
As long as my mother has air in her lungs to nag me to come visit her in Orlando, I will be putting my birthday on hold as a way to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Alzheimer’s and dementia effects everyone. In fact, it’s currently the 6th leading cause of death in the United States today (note: dementia is often lumped in with Alzheimer’s because it’s possible to have vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s simultaneously). It might actually be 3rd in the country due to recent estimates. Either way, this is not the kind of disease that I would birthday wish on anyone.
I won’t not be celebrating my birthday altogether. Obviously, I will keep eating cupcakes. I am my mother’s daughter, after all. IRL, I will be hugging and laughing with my friends, making memories that I hope to be able to hold tightly onto until my last breath. Since this is a genetic disorder (and #PapaKibbe has also been diagnosed with actual Alzheimer’s) there is a good chance that I could suffer from either of these diseases in my lifetime. If not me, then likely someone else in my family. Science is constantly making advances in this field of research, but there is currently no cure for this. Treating it isn’t even always successful because of how complex this disease is.
So #sorrynotsorry that you can’t post on my wall, or if I send you this post if you tweet at me about me being another year older, but today is not my birthday.
It’s #MamaKibbe’s birthday.
If you would like to put your well wishes to good use, please consider making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association on my behalf. They’re the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. If you don’t have money to spare right now, please pass my story along to your friends to help raise awareness.