Why do we wish the dead 'Happy Birthday'?

My mother died 12 years ago.

It’s been so long, I can’t even remember what it was like when she was alive.  I just have this general sense that it was a ‘good time’.  A ‘happy time’.  I love her dearly, always.  And if you ask me why, now, all I might be able to say is, because she loved me too.  Believed in me.  She brought me here, raised me, and set me free.


She committed suicide when I was 14 years old.  But she lavished enough love on me, and spent enough time with me, that it wasn’t abandonment.  It was the deepest kind of love, and the saddest kind of self-loathing.  She thought I’d be better off without her.

Today, she would have been 55 years old.  I’m announcing it because it seems strange that I care about her imaginary age, when she’s been dead for so long.  I never recognise the anniversary of her death, because it would be too painful.  Too sad.  Too morbid.  I don’t want to remember the anniversary of her death, because she never celebrated that with me.

When we remember the birthday of a dead person, we remember the way they celebrated it with us.  Mum and I would make a booking at ‘Shanikas’ on Stephensons road.  An Italian Trattoria in wedged in between the video store and the newsagency in Mount Waverley.

I found Shanikas to be quite authentic, as a young girl who had never been to Italy.  The walls were mottled yellow to resemble sandstone.  The pasta was a little better than the Latina pre-packaged ravioli you’d find in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.  I knew the rules when we went there: one main meal and one drink, dessert dependent on mother’s mood, and to be shared between the both of us.  It was a dogmatic indulgence.  But I’ve never appreciated another meal out as much since.

We’d labour over our dinner together, because we knew it be a whole year until we’d be back.  We basked in it.  Over someone cooking dinner for us.  The decadence of the complimentary bread basket, with olive oil, or butter, or both if we asked.  We’d savour the countless glasses of water, iced if we said so.  And once the waiter even gave us a free bowl of gelato, which we ate strategically just before it melted into a puddle on the table.

Since she died, and I've grown up, I’ve eaten at far better restaurants, with far more abandon.  But nothing can compare to the ravioli at Shanikas.  And its faux painting of a beach in the distance.  With waves so real, that if you looked hard enough, they might have been moving.  They could very well have been moving, just a little.