birthdays, holidays, a random thursday afternoon all basically offer amble opportunities for melt-downs or other sorts of emotional upheaval. the thing is, they will never be the same after a sibling is gone. after any loved one is gone, i guess.

out of all the quasi celebrations, my birthday seems to hit me the hardest. this year, although i didn’t cry at all on the actual day – it was yesterday in case you were wondering – i had a tough time with it a few days beforehand. i figure it’s because on my birthday back in 2018 shit was really hitting the fan. hard.

first of all, i only remember one birthday without my sister. my 3rd birthday floats around in a dusty memory box of my mind. Barbara wasn’t born yet but my mom was already pregnant with her so in a sense, she was already around somewhere. after that, Barbara was always there on my birthday. when she was a little older and understood that there were cake and presents to be had, parties to be held, she wanted all of it to be about her. since she was the youngest, i guess we all had to oblige. it drove me insane. she was always crying that she didn’t have a cake so naturally, my parents gave her a small piece of mine, put a candle on it, lit it and let her blow it out. i even have a picture where her red, bloated face is puffing at the solitary candle on a heap of pink icing. i’m also in the picture and i can almost hear myself sighing with contempt. here was yet another thing i had to share. another thing that wasn’t completely mine.

oh, she also got a present.

so having to spend a birthday without her … well, let’s just say, aside from the fact that i have a hard time dealing with the ever-growing number as of late, i cannot find the true joy of celebrating my birthday. it’s not the worst thing in the world, i guess, but it is an inner struggle that i am faced with each year anew.

second of all, it was on my birthday in 2018 where i knew something was wrong. Barbara was always the first one to wish me a happy birthday, either by message, email, or she’d wait until it was midnight in europe and she’d call. in 2018 i spent the entire day waiting to hear from her. nothing. it couldn’t be that she forgot or that she was angry with me and refused to call. no. something wasn’t right.

finally, i asked saša, no, i demanded to know what the fuck was going on. he sat me down and looked me in the eye and said, ok, i need to tell you something.

yeah no shit.

Barbara had a seizure and she was at the hospital all night. now she’s on medication and is sleeping. she’ll try to call you later today.

smack, crackle and pop. i was dumbfounded. i don’t even remember reacting. i was lost for words. emotionally stunned.

see the thing with her brain cancer was that she hardly had any symptoms so she never really seemed sick. other than the time she was on chemo and undergoing radiation treatments of course. but she was as vibrant as ever. traveling the world, working, making a home for herself and her husband. making a life for them both which they both deserved.

but amidst this shocking news from saša, amidst the silence that followed, i had a terrible realization. a memory of a visit with her doctor in march, less than two months before this awful day.

it was the first (and last) time i went with her to her after mri check-up. i had gone with her to do the scan, in the middle of the night. sunnybrook really is the best. so here i was, waiting for them to call her name, not sure if i’d go in with her or not. when she insisted, i walked into the little room where two doctors, a nurse and an insurance lady were standing around a chair, a frightful apprehension electrified the silent room. they were all looking at Barbara. immediately i knew it was bad news. the worst news.

the cancer was resisting chemo and was growing again.

a single tear fell from my sister’s eye. i tightened my grip on her tender hand and bit my tongue. don’t cry. don’t you dare cry. her husband took the initiative and did the talking. thank god. thank you, v. i couldn’t utter a word, a monstrous clump in my throat. my sister just looked down. the tear long gone but the sadness ever so present.

there was another option, an experimental treatment. but it was expensive and nobody knew if it would work. of course we’ll try anything. my brother’s gofund campaign went, what seemed to us, viral. people from all over the world pitched in and i couldn’t be more grateful. of course, hardly anyone in my life knew just how sick she was, just what kind of awful demon lurked in her brain. i felt encouraged by the outpour of empathy, support and, of course, the monetary contributions. we exceeded our goal within days. maybe this was the miracle we had all been hoping for.

but you see, there was a downside. there always fucking has to be.

her doctor, a huge man yet incredibly intelligent and helpful, said, if she starts to have seizures we know the treatment is no longer working and then there is no more option.

no more option. no more chemo. no more radiation. no nothing.

just death.

he didn’t say those things and i pushed them back, way back, behind layers and layers of denial.

flash forward to may. here we were. a seizure. a big one.

and it was only the beginning. it all went downhill from there.

no more option. only death.

so to sit here and actively and lightheartedly celebrate the day of my birth, it feels like i’m cheating. it makes me feel like a fraud. how am i supposed to be happy about a day like this knowing that she will never again bake a cake, never again send a silly card, never again sing a Barbara version of happy day? never again ask for a candle for her piece of my cake.

maybe that’s why the days leading up to may 17 have me in tears most of the time because i remember that awful one in 2018 all too well.

there is an upside, however. that’s what i’ve come to learn. there always is an upside, no matter how much i refuse to acknowledge it.

i try to change my point of view. i try to be grateful for reaching another milestone, a number that my sister won’t get to even though she would have deserved another century of life if it were up to me. because, you see, she fought for every extra second. she really did. and i think about that when i shudder at my age. i have to say, no, some people never get to see this number because they leave us far too soon. so even though it makes me sad every time, i demand of myself to feel nothing but gratitude for each new birthday. we never know how many we have left.

just like she didn’t know that 33 was to be her last number. cuts like a knife, doesn’t’ it.

so yeah, 42 is a good number. i will try and do it proud. even if it kills me.