Birthdays have always been a big deal in my family, even when we pretend otherwise. I remember many great parties over the years—my father’s 70th birthday, my mother’s 80th, my 50th (at that one I wanted to avoid the usual black balloon “he’s over the hill” junk, so I made it a celebration of the golden anniversary of my bris, and promised that there would be no historic reenactment. We managed to squeeze in more than 90 guests that day!)

In the past few years, though, the family birthdays have become a bit more tenuous. Both of my parents are in care facilities, my mother requiring advanced nursing care, and my father, dementia care. They’re both very frail, and each birthday in and of itself has become exceptionally special.

A few weeks ago I realized that after my parents departed this mortal coil there would be no more birthday celebrations. Rather than just toast a memory, I decided to plan for something a little more concrete. I went to the dollar store and bought twenty birthday cards (2 for a buck; my mother wouldn’t have it any other way.) I made sure I bought a “Congratulations you’re 60” and a “Congratulations you’re 70” cards for the mix. Then my mother filled out each card, with numbered years.

For the next twenty years I’ll get a birthday card from my folks. As I told my mother, so long as you’re around we’ll open them together, and when you’re not, we’ll open them together. In the event I make it to 2036 I’ll have been through the whole series—come to think of it, these days if we all make it to 2036 it’ll be cause for a huge party.

You always have a chance to extend a great relationship, but it’s not an indefinite opportunity. Fill out notes today. Take pictures, make videos. People rarely regret the card or picture that they took, just the ones they never got around to taking. Memories can mean even more if you take the time to share your love into the future. Thanks, Mom!