Last week was a minefield of milestones.
In the midst of the very surreal experience of watching my mom move through the final stages of her life, we stumbled upon a particular date in January traditionally reserved to celebrate my birth.
That’s right, my birthday. Stellar timing, right?
My mom was extremely weak when we moved her to the Hospice Home on Saturday, so even though the nurses said there was no way to predict how long she’d be with us I just couldn’t see how she would make it until Thursday. (There’s that “parent nursing degree” rearing its ugly head.) Mom was tired, she hadn’t eaten in a week, and the antibiotics hadn’t cleared her infection. All logic pointed to her passing away within a day or two.
But it turns out that logic doesn’t have the final say in this stage of life. There are a lot of variables that influence how long someone stays with us, including whether they’re ready to go. I guess my mom wasn’t.
She was sporadically awake for the first few days, time I spent holding her hand and looking into her eyes while I talked with her. It was probably on Monday when I said, “Can you believe I’ll be forty-five on Thursday, mom?! That’s halfway to ninety!” And the corner of her mouth twitched as if she wanted to smile.
It was the next day when Bee turned to me and said in no uncertain terms that if we were still there on Thursday There Would Be Cake, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I know I must have given her a look, considering the circumstances, but she was very clear: her mama would be furious if we let my birthday go by without celebrating it, no matter what. So that was that.
Thursday rolled around and I have to be honest…pretending to be happy about my birthday was just about the last thing I felt like doing. It wasn’t until one of the nurses made a comment that night that I was able to properly frame the whole thing. Having a happy birthday was definitely not the evening’s goal. What we were doing was celebrating the life that precious woman had brought into the world, even as she was getting ready to leave it. And I knew Bee was right – mom would have wanted it that way.
We gathered around mom’s bed and I watched my family sing happy birthday to me, knowing that it would be the last one my mom witnessed on this earth. T-man cupped his hands over the lit candles (“We don’t want to set off the sprinkler!”) until I made my wish and blew them out. I can’t share the wish, what with tradition and all, but I bet most of you can guess what it was.
You made it, mama. You saw me halfway to 90. And you did a wonderful job of it, too.