How to be productive on your birthday when you don't really like it?
February 4, 2017 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Help me find ways to celebrate my birthday, when I feel uncomfortable about celebrating it, due to it being a bittersweet day.

My mom's cancer was found the day that I was born. The biopsy was done in the delivery room, and the results came back a few days later - on what was her birthday. Her treatment was successful that time, but the cancer came back aggressively, and she died almost 11 years later. For obvious reasons, my parents and family did not disclose this to me growing up, but I found out the details a few years ago when I went to retrieve her medical records.

I've never been a "WOO! LET'S PARTY!" kind of person on my birthday. But since finding out this information, it's hard for me to get in any kind of celebratory mood. It just feels weird. I'm also tired of feeling sad about it, because what good does that do? But it's impossible to not think about, so I'd like to "celebrate" my birthday in ways that are giving, or peaceful, or quietly nurturing. Can you help give me some ideas so I can avoid feeling aimlessly blah on my birthday?

Things I've done:
- volunteering
- donated blood
- spent time in nature/hiking

I'm really bad at coming up with ideas. My birthday is in late February, and I'm on the East Coast - things are often cold and blustery and possibly snowy.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My mom died last summer. I just had my first birthday without her on Friday. Friday I didn't actually do anything celebratory. I got pizza and watched British panel shows. On Saturday (yesterday) I went to an art museum, had dinner with friends, and went to see some improv.

My advice to you is to do *something.* You don't have to see it as a celebration thing. Just do things that you enjoy. Think about the things that you enjoy but don't necessarily do often and plan to do those things. Don't get bogged down thinking it has to be special. If you enjoy pancakes then go have some pancakes. If you enjoy learning about new crafts then see if there's a glass fusing class or whatever. If it's snowy then go build a snowman massacre ala Calvin and Hobbes.

The best way to honor the situation is to just be you, only slightly harder.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:38 PM on February 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Go to a spa and get a massage? (And, if appropriate, haircut and mani-pedi?) Lots of places have a light spa lunch and you can spend the day getting spa services (massage, facial, hair, mani-pedi) OR you can do my preferred method where you go eat a delicious and yet unhealthy burger and fries and have a big glass of wine at the restaurant next to the spa, and then go get your massage and mani-pedi.

I am also a big fan of taking yourself to movies.

You could also consider taking, or sending, flowers to your mother's grave, or (if it's in your religious tradition) lighting a candle or asking for a service to be said for her.

On a slightly different note, I had a scary mole biopsied when I gave birth to my second (the anesthesia was already on board), and while it came back negative (thank God), if it had come back cancerous I still would have 100% celebrated his birthday and wanted him to celebrate it. It would have felt like even more of a miracle than it already did. I know you can't really stop feeling weird about it (feelings don't work that way), but I truly think your mother would have felt your birth was extra-miraculous and would have wanted you to really celebrate, for her and for you. The biopsy had nothing to do with your birth -- she was just receiving very comprehensive medical care then. Even in the face of something so terrible and frightening, she must have been so incandescently happy about you and your existence, and that something life-threatening for her didn't impact you and her ability to give birth to you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:43 PM on February 4, 2017 [14 favorites]

I have an odd and sad anniversary that coincides with my birthday, and I usually do something quiet by myself and then a low key dinner with just a few special people later. In the past I've walked in nature, spent the afternoon writing letters to my closest friends, written some bittersweet poetry, did a 30 poems in 30 days that month, had a beer by myself that I truly savored and allowed myself to be truly contemplative about that part of my life, had my tarot read, spent most of the day alternating between hot LUSH baths and snuggling in a blanket, reading lovely books.

I try to always just let myself feel my feelings, and usually by my low key dinner, I'm craving time with friends and it turns out to be just what I need.

Best wishes.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:54 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

In your position, I would definitely explore the volunteering route much more. By their nature, birthdays are too me-me-me (by default) and by focusing on others, you might be able to re-programme how you feel about the date.

That may not work though, which brings me to my second idea.

After my latest birthday, I now have a veritable hat-trick of reasons to want to forget that day. As it happens, I also have a significant day later in the year, for which I can find many many reasons to remember and have thankful thoughts. I am going to switch to celebrating on that day instead. Your mileage of course, as always, may vary.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 11:57 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Might it help to do something directly related to your mom, just by way of honoring your feelings about it? Start off the day by laying flowers at her grave if you live close enough, or write her a letter with the things you'd tell her about this past year if you could.

Apart from that, I think a meal with family and friends might be the way to go. No need for a wine, women and song type of event, but what's more nurturing than affirming and celebrating your relationships with the people you love?

(Also, I'm sure you've considered this from all angles, but the first thing I thought when I read this story was that the doctors' discovering the cancer when they did is quite possibly what allowed them to treat it effectively enough to give her another 11 years of life. Your birth was part of the treatment, so to speak, rather than part of the cancer, and how many babies do their moms that big a favor just by being born? I'm not saying this to try to talk you out of your feelings, but to suggest that if the feeling of weirdness gets milder with time and you feel like outright celebrating at some point, there's grounds for that too and no reason to feel guilty.)
posted by ostro at 11:58 PM on February 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

It sounds like you're moving in a good direction to be able to celebrate your birthday and begin to allow yourself to treat yourself well, even if it seems hard. I hear you on east coast winter birthdays being hard to plan for, but here are some things that I like to do.
If you're into sweets, treat yourself to a hot chocolate or ice cream sundae. If you're spending the day solo, going to a museum (or two), the planterium, a movie ( possibly for a classic film or an art house cinema if you have them), or a storytelling event a la The Moth. You could also take advantage of the cold weather and go ice skating if that's something you'd be interested in!
I'd also pick a restaurant that you like/ have been wanting to try and have a nice dinner out.
Whatever you end up doing, I hope that you can enjoy yourself, and start a new tradition of
treating yourself, because you deserve it.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 12:05 AM on February 5, 2017

I like the idea of having a ritual or ceremony to honor your mom with a candle, prayer if that is your way, etc.

In addition, what about doing something that she enjoyed or that was meaningful to her? Eating her favorite food, going somewhere that was special to her/the both of you, volunteering in a way that's related to something she valued or enjoyed.

I want to also suggest doing the special mom part of the day in the morning/first. You might feel easier about a quiet dinner or a special dessert or something if you know you honored her and sent your love "first" before celebrating. That kind of symbolism is often helpful for me, obviously it may or may not resonate with you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:47 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your birth saved your mother's life.

The obvious answer is to plant something - start seedlings in peat pots for a vegetable garden, or check and see if it's OK to plant a tree - plant something is my advice.
posted by jbenben at 12:59 AM on February 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

A few years ago, my best friend died the day before my birthday, and I learned of it on the morning of my birthday. What a black and devastating day. On the birthdays since, I have incorporated some things that we liked to do together into the day - had a drink at a bar we went to together, did some walking and exploring in another city. I know your time together was brief, but was there anything you and she did together? Is there anything she liked to do that you could do or try to learn to do on that day or around that time?

But mostly I honor him by enjoying the day and using it to celebrate being alive. We had a lot of fun together, and I think that's what he would have liked best, that I have fun that day, even if I didn't specifically celebrate him in some way. I think mothers are like that too, as Eyebrows McGee's post points out. Your title mentions being "productive" on this day. I'm not sure if you mean this in the traditional sense, but I have since started designating my birthday as a holiday, taking off work and specifically not doing any chores, errands, etc. on this day. I do this to avoid falling into the trap of not taking the day to really do anything (since at my stage in life this requires being proactive and initiating events). I know you may not have that luxury.

As for how to not feel aimlessly blah on the day, I try to flip my thinking about things on their head. I think about coincidence and serendipity and instead of dwelling on the fluke that this happened on this particular day, I instead think about the forces that brought us together, which were equally coincidental. And instead of thinking how unfair (unlucky) it was that my friend was taken away so early, I think about how unfair (lucky) it was that I had such an amazing friendship which was brief but blazed so bright.

I really love ostro and jbenben's thinking about how you saved your mother's life and gave you 11 years together. Best wishes.
posted by unannihilated at 7:36 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a string of shitty anniversaries from Dec 20 to Feb 13. There is a lot going on at that time of year where I'm culturally expected to be/make happy. It can be challenging and that is okay.

First and foremost I'd say make an effort at reclaiming the day/week/month whatever period of time things are weird for you -- for YOU. Make a tradition of planting a tree or volunteering or something you think your mother would have liked/approved of if that helps - reserve that one concrete action for that purpose. And then do what I think she would have done - celebrate yourself in whatever way you feel is best for you. Go to a movie (alone if you want); gather your friends for an afternoon/evening at the bar; travel somewhere and do something you love just for yourself.

Good luck, and take care of yourself.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:25 AM on February 5, 2017

Is there some reason you have to mark the day at all? I hate birthdays. Everyone's birthdays. I completely ignore mine. I can't tell you what I did last year because I did nothing, but I also can't tell you what form "nothing" took because it was just another day.

HINT: If you use Facebook, remove your date of birth so 200 people don't all auto-wish you a happy birthday.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:23 AM on February 5, 2017

Ditto jbenben. Try reframing it as a celebration that because the cancer was found on your birthday your mother was able to go through successful treatment and live another 11 years.

Do you know ay things your mom wanted to do but never got around to doing? Try doing one of those things. See if it makes you happy to do something for her that she didn't get to do.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2017

My birthday is a sad day for me, too.

My ritual is that I go alone to a place I love, out in nature, where I do some hiking/walking/sitting and looking.
It's a bit of a drive so it's kind of my own little ritual road trip. I never take anyone to this place; it's just mine.

After that I go have a little lunch by myself at a favorite spot.

Then I take myself to a movie.

In the evening I might be social a little. Tea or dinner with a loved one, or a beer at the neighborhood pub.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 3:43 PM on February 5, 2017

I used to help my best friend honor mother's day after her mom had died by planting flowers on mother's day. We usually tried to find an out of the way spot and plant native flowers and say some words about her mom.

Since you're in winter, you could plant some seeds in an indoor tray with the intention of transferring them into the ground on mother's day in May.
posted by spindrifter at 3:55 PM on February 6, 2017

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