I imagine that every year you look forward to celebrating your birthday. Even if as we get older we joke about not celebrating our special day or not wanting a big fuss made out of growing a year older, deep down, I’m sure you appreciate receiving well wishes. Birthdays are for celebrating, after all; they mean another year of life was lived and a new one is beginning.
Now imagine that you have no concept or recollection that it is a special day. When people wish you a happy birthday, your response is, “Me? You mean it’s my birthday?! Oh, thank you!” You pretend that you were joking and that you do indeed know it’s your birthday, but you really don’t. Were it not for people calling or visiting to wish you a happy birthday, it would be just another regular day for you.
Even as people celebrate your special day around you, you wonder just how old you are because you can’t remember. Eventually, you give up trying to remember for yourself and ask, “So, how old am I now?” Sixty-nine is the response and again you fake the situation, laughing while saying, “69 of course! I just wanted to see if you knew!” But, you really didn’t know.
This scenario is repeated throughout the day each time someone wishes you a happy birthday. It’s as if a reset button on your brain was pushed each time, causing the scene to play again. Only those around you have seen it before; you are seeing it for the first time, each time it plays.
My father’s birthday is today. He turns sixty-nine years old. This is his repeated scene. This is life with dementia. Happy birthday papi.