She died three weeks later.
The next year would have been her 50th birthday. I spent time that day talking with my aunt about her. Every year since then, I have been aware of her birthday, but I haven't done anything to acknowledge it. Instead, when I've been in Southern California for Christmas, I have driven out to the hospital where we celebrated that last birthday, and walked through the Japanese garden where she liked to feed the koi when she was feeling well enough to go outside. I didn't make it out to the hospital this year, but in Northern California, my sister invited me to join her at Fort Point.
Every year on December 29, my sister has gone to the Golden Gate Bridge to wish our mother a happy birthday. This year I stood beside her at the base of the bridge, looking out at the water, the boats, the fog, remembering. The last birthday. The last visit in the hospital. The day we scattered her ashes from a boat, just inside the bridge. It was chilly and grey out, and those were the first memories to surface, matching the weather and my mood. I suppose it is part of my own ritual of remembering her each year to accept those memories, and then to remind myself of older memories, ones in which she is happy and healthy. Seeing her nurse my little brother. Getting into her bed at night when I was little and had a bad dream. Learning how to dip tortillas into enchilada sauce before filling them, and then rolling them just so.
I rested my forehead against my sister's back, and she dropped her head back to rest it on top of mine.