Today is my mother’s 87th birthday.
She is living in the seniors’ lodge back home.
Last year, on her 86th birthday, her doctor sent her to the big city hospital for a colonoscopy.
This year, I am determined to make it a better day for her…special-like. The kind of day, that, once it is over, she will look back and say to herself, “Well, do I feel loved, or what!”
I order a lemon cake for her…that’s her favourite cake in the world. Audrey at the bakery back home makes them and they are dynamite! She makes a scratch angel food cake, cuts it in half, spreads her home-made lemon curd between the layers and then ices it with whipped cream and a dollop of lemon curd folded in, for flavour. Audrey is delighted to make this for me, and she’ll have it ready for pick-up around 3:00 P.M. today.
I call the florist’s shop back home and ask the woman who owns it to please make and deliver a huge bouquet of long-lasting flowers…mini-sunflowers, snapdragons, asters and carnations to start with…and then next week, deliver a bouquet of roses, just to keep the feeling going for her. The woman at the florist’s shop is so accommodating…she delivers a bouquet to my mother every week for me, and my mother loves the attention that it gets her from the staff and residents at the lodge. They call her a spoiled baby, and she loves it, she tells me!
My family are putting together a little family party for her today. My mother will be wheeled across the lawn, from the seniors' lodge in the hospital to the assisted living lodge where her brother and his wife live. They are hosting this party. Potato salad, cabbage coleslaw, cold cuts, homemade pickles, loads of homemade buns and fresh farm butter…and devilled eggs, for sure. All the family living close-by will come and help celebrate this birthday. She is special to them because she is the oldest of her siblings and the matriarch of the family, since my grandmother passed.
After they eat the potato salad, the cold cuts and the cake, they’ll talk for awhile, then everyone will start yawning, yawning, yawning… and it will be time for my mother to be wheeled back across the lawn to the hospital and the attached lodge where she lives now.
I call her this morning to wish her a happy birthday. The nurse takes the phone to her room, where she is being washed and dressed to get ready for her special day. After the nurse and the care worker leave the room, she says to me over the phone, “This is really hard for me…”
“What is?” I ask.
“Having people do everything for me, from washing my face to taking me to the toilet…” she says quietly.
I am silent, I have no answer, I do not understand, it is not happening to me. I think for a moment, for the best and kindest answer, and then I say simply, ”I bet it is…and no one else understands that, do they?”
“Nope,” she says. “They sure don’t”
She is quiet for a long moment and then changes the subject and away we go…for over half an hour, I have my mother back with me, like always. Today is a clear and lucid day for her, and she knows who I am, where I live, what I am doing with my life and that we love each other very much. That hasn’t happened for a long time, and it is a golden gift from Heaven for me. Unlike today, most days she tells me incredible stories about her last trip to Japan and the new car she has just bought for herself and the guy in the meat market who flirts with her….and his jealous mother who is 93 and won’t let him out of her sight!
This last part is true, but the guy is not in the meat market any more, he is a family friend who comes to visit her every so often, and he really is followed everywhere by his ever-watchful 93 year old mother! The story goes that when he and his mother first moved to the little town where my mother lived, all the single women in town teased him mercilessly. They said that seeing’s he was single and all, they’d have to find him a wife. He replied, “Well, you better get rid of the one I have at home first!”
Today is a miracle of a day…we have the same kind of fast-flowing conversation we used to have every Sunday afternoon, when she was living in her own home. We talk about my children, my grandchildren, her children, and our extended family and she never once gets anyone’s name wrong!
She forgets for a moment what she wants to tell me and I say, “Hey, that’s ok, I do that, too! …and, so does my daughter…and so does my granddaughter!"
She pauses, then says more to herself than to me, “Is that so? Well, then, I don’t need to feel badly about it, do I?”
I ask her if Susan, her hairdresser, is doing a good job of fixing her hair these days. She laughs, then shares with me what Susan does for her. “She comes and gets me and takes me to her salon. Then, we talk up a storm! She always gives me a hug and a kiss before she takes me back. Yes, she’s really a doll, that Susan!” I have made arrangements with Susan to do my mother’s hair every week and also to cut and perm it, whenever she thinks it necessary. Her appearance has always been very important to my mother and I suspect that has not changed at all.
“By the way, thank you for all the clothes and flowers that you have sent to me,” she says, out of the blue...surprising me totally. I did not know that she was aware that it was me who sends these things. “The others in here think I’m pretty spoiled,” she tells me.
“Well, it’s just because I love you, you know,” I tell her.
She laughs softly and says, “Well, I love you too, you know!”
Then, as abruptly as it began, she stops talking, speaks to someone in the background and tells me that she has to go. The nurse wants the phone back.
I want to scream, “NO! Let me talk to her all day today and all day tomorrow, as well! I haven’t talked with her like this for over a year…don’t stop us now, please? Please?”
But they do.
We say our goodbyes and our I love you’s and she is gone…..I am holding an empty line...I set the phone down softly, and start singing...
"Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, I love you,
Happy birthday to you."
I want my mother back…just for a day.
No, that's not true.
I want her back for the rest of my life.