A Birthday Cake for Charlie
A decade ago — or possibly even less — I would’ve made fun of the kind of person who made a birthday cake for their dog. We always had family dogs while I was growing up, but they were backyard dogs who, while part of the family, weren’t really as integral a part of the household as Charlie has become.
To say that it’s been a rough couple of months would be an understatement. At the end of May, I caught a bad case of the flu, and as it reached its pinnacle, my mom called to say that she had collapsed at home and had been taken to the hospital via ambulance. My mom had ongoing health issues, so I tried not to be too alarmed, but I had a bad feeling from the start. The next day, she called again to say that there was a mass on her liver, and that the doctors suspected it was cancer, and that if it was, that it had probably migrated there from elsewhere in her body.
I’ve been through a lot of family health scares over the years, and usually I remain pretty calm until I know for sure there’s something to be worried about. But that night, I started crying and couldn’t stop for hours. We were waiting for the results of the biopsy when I received a phone call in the middle of the night. It was my aunt, frantic, on her way to the hospital. My mom’s heart had stopped and she had dropped into a coma following revival.
The news continued to get worse from there, and I barely slept that week, as phone calls poured in around the clock with various updates, all bad. Three days later, we made the decision to take her off of life support.
I flew home the next week to handle the memorial and barely had time to mourn in the process. After five days at home, I returned to Seoul and a life that I no longer recognized. The weeks since have been a slow process of surviving and readjusting. I’m a different person now than I was before. I might get into what this whole thing has been like more in future posts — I almost definitely will, in fact — but for right now, I really am trying to take a step forward out of the fog of grief.
Which is why I decided to have a birthday party for my dog. I needed a reason, however stupid, to just feel like I was a normal person facing normal-sized problems, who had the emotional leisure to do something as trivial as baking a doggie birthday cake.
And it worked. Charlie couldn’t believe his eyes, although he seemed to know from the start that the cake was for him. He looks miserable in most of the photos only because he was being made to sit in front of the cake and control himself while I snapped a few shots.
But eventually, he got into the spirit of things, even joining in with the birthday song.
And of course, the best part, was getting to — finally — dig in.
Look at the passion in those eyes. I let him get through half before I took the rest away to save for later, which really ended up feeling like the best part. He was so busy sulking before he got to try the cake, because he was being told to wait, and after, because it had been taken away before he could eat it all, that I felt in the end like I’d betrayed him somehow by giving him the cake in the first place. But over the next few days, as he got to enjoy a slice after his morning walk, he finally showed a little appreciation. One small piece with a beginning and an end was just the right amount to brighten his day.
It’s a good reminder of a lesson I’ve been slowly unraveling over the past few weeks since my mother passed — one of many — that we don’t need the whole cake to be happy; that having just a bit of the good every now and then can often taste sweeter than having it all, all the time; and that the downs, in the end, are the reason why the ups feel so good.
Life is so much shorter and more fragile than we think it is, but that’s all more the reason to find an excuse to celebrate every chance we get. I feel like I’m only just knocking on the door of the final lessons my mother had to teach me, through her passing, but one thing I know for sure is that you can’t wait for life to come to you. You don’t have enough time.
Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.