Today is my mom’s birthday. She’s 89. I brought her flowers. She’s not really sure who I am, but the roses are lovely. She also doesn’t remember from one minute to the next that it’s her birthday, so we remind her. Over and over and over again.
Like we have to remind her that my dad isn’t coming to dinner, because he’s been gone almost three years. Don’t get me started on this one—I’ve been outvoted. My choice would be to tell her he’s out of town, and wait until she remembers on her own, which she eventually does. Reminding her of his death seems to me to be unnecessarily cruel—usually she snaps back and remembers, but on a few occasions it’s been like telling her the first time, and she’s inconsolable with grief for hours.
But there are no easy answers, and the things that work one day may not work the next day, or even the next hour. It’s a constant struggle to keep her safe, healthy and as happy as she can be under the circumstances.
When you reach the stage where all your siblings (she had nine), your spouse of over 60 years and most of your friends have died, life can seem very lonely. Even though one or more family members visits every day, she still feels the voids left in her life by the deaths of so many people she loved.
A few years ago she suffered complete heart block, and a pacemaker was implanted. My son refers to her as the Energizer Bunny, and we all look at one another and wonder how much longer she has. She has survived multiple cancers, including lung cancer 25 years ago, and has none of the usual diseases of old age—no diabetes, no high blood pressure.
So we watch her mind and body slowly deteriorate; doing the best we can to maintain whatever quality of life is possible. But while I’m grateful she’s lived such a long life, I feel bad for her. The frustration she has of knowing that she doesn’t remember things, the confusion, the depression and lack of mobility are all painful to watch.
So, happy birthday mom, from your daughter. Whether you remember me or not, I remember you, and all the things you’ve done for me, and I love you.