My parents were never big on celebrating birthdays with parties. I can’t really explain it, and to be perfectly honest, it never occurred to me to ask them why. In later years I assumed it was an attitude that resulted from the war, but neither one of them grew up with the tradition of big birthday parties. Consequently, this is how I raised my daughter as well, giving her a choice of party or trip. Since my birthday is in July, it always landed during summer holidays, when everyone I would have invited was gone fur summer anyway, or we were travelling. Years later, while attached to the school calendar of my daughter, my birthday landed once again during home-leave in Germany, so again it was a day always associated with travelling.

I honestly have no recollection of any big milestone birthday celebrations of mine. When I turned 18, while most of my friends had grand cotillion / debuts, I grabbed my High School pals and dragged them to Pizza Hut, and we were all in shorts and t-shirts. It was only during college days when the school year was from June to May that had a chance to celebrate my day with friends. We still ended up with pizza and root beer, but at least I wasn’t travelling. My 30th and 40th were also uneventful, in the sense that I did not feel compelled to live it up with several dozen other people.

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©MTHerzog

Even last year when I turned 50, instead of a huge party, it was a quiet celebration at home with two special people, one of whom was so sick that I cancelled the reservation at the restaurant. The months that followed gave me no real reason to celebrate either, and before I knew it, another birthday rolled in. This was, however, the loneliest and most heartbreaking birthday morning I spent. For the very first time in 51 years there was nobody around to prepare breakfast, or even have breakfast with me.  There were no flowers, and I lit my own candles as I wiped the tears away.

And I missed my midnight text message from my mother. From the moment she learned how to send text messages with her beloved Nokia phone, Mommy would always greet me one minute after midnight. I asked her about this once and she said it was because she laid in labour around midnight, thinking I would be a July 10 baby. Well, I dragged things on a little longer and was born shortly after midnight on the 11th instead.

Birthdays are a time of reckoning. Many write their New Year’s Resolutions on December 31, but I do mine on my birthday – promises I make to myself and goals I want to achieve in the next 12 months. More importantly, it is a time to be grateful. Considering my state of mind seven months ago, I am grateful for having survived it all and lived to tell the tale. Friends and loved ones have stood by me through the tears and the storms. Life never turns out the way I wish it would, but I have learned to make the best of what comes my way, and embrace the rawness of emotions.