It’s been a bit of a dark joke for years, my birthday. Adolf Hitler was born on the same day – a fact people love to remind me of annually (with the appropriate look of horror). Then there are the tragic events that seem to cluster around April 20th.
The Columbine High School massacre happened on my birthday. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people and spilled massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico happened on my birthday. This year an earthquake struck Sichuang Province, China leaving 200 people dead and over 12,000 injured.
Strangely, April 20th is also Weed Day – something I see as a global sub-conscious effort to inject a mellow kind of balance to the universe. But it’s not just the day. The whole month is nuts. I committed suicide in April once, during a dark college episode. It was obviously unsuccessful, but still, it’s always something.
The Titanic sunk in April. The American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Rwandan genocide started in April. President Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr were both assassinated in April. Chernobyl, the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world, happened in April. The worst race riots in US history, sometimes called the Rodney King riots, tore Los Angeles apart, leaving 53 people dead and thousands injured. In April.
The Waco tragedy that left 76 people dead, including 27 children – April 19th. The Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead and over 800 injured – April 19th. The Virginia Tech massacre that left 30 students dead and more than 30 wounded – April 16.
And added to this list for 2013 – the Boston Marathon bombings, the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, and the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh that has killed over 400 people with 1,000 more still missing.
What is it with this month?
This year I awoke on my birthday with a sob stuck in my throat, but it had nothing to do with horrifying news reports or my advancing age.
April 20, 2013 was the first anniversary of my mother’s death. Yes, my Mom died on the day she gave me birth and, for some reason, that seems fitting.
My bloody April birth story has been told and re-told in increasingly creative ways through the decades. Days of agony in a crowded ward at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital in Northern Ireland — my father barred entry, my mother suffering alone. The details get fuzzy in the repeated telling, but still a horror story by all accounts – breech, bent in half, and a lovely shade of blue thanks to the cord wrapped tightly around my scrawny neck.
My mom suffered for days to give me life and she did it without Lamaze classes or a husband near enough to kick when the pain got too bad. When it was over, Dad carried me home, snuggled in a hand-crocheted blanket, while my poor mother remained hospitalized for another six weeks.
I thought about this as I nursed mom in ICU 24/7 for several weeks last April. Actually, I thought about many things, but none of them included national or global tragedies, assassinated leaders, game-changing wars or maniac dictators. A nuclear bomb could have exploded in the hospital coffee shop and I would not have noticed. My world shrunk to that one little room with it’s ghastly lighting and beeping machines – and time stopped.
On April 20th, when the doctors told us mom was too sick to fight any longer, my brother’s first response was to protect me. Not today. Not on my sister’s birthday.
I love him for that, but of course none of us wanted to watch mom suffer a moment longer than necessary. For me, it was the closing of a circle. Mom brought me into this world in pain and tears. Now I clutched her hand as she left this broken world for an unseen place I can only imagine. It was my turn for pain and tears.
The next April upheaval is 12 months away. Today the trees are blooming, the birds are singing and that annoying, chirping chipmunk is perched under my open window once again.
Thank God for May.