A Birthday Lunch

I took my mother out to lunch yesterday. I’d seen her five days before, for a visit to the neurologist, but we hadn’t done lunch together yet this week. Today is my birthday, and sometime this week, I wanted to be with the one who made that possible. These are the notes I jotted down after our time together.

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Mom is terribly confused and upset when I arrive at Heritage Court later than I had hoped. She cannot figure out what we are doing, wants me to go into the dining room with her, is distressed when I lead her towards the exit. This has happened more and more often in recent weeks – she doesn’t understand about ‘going out to eat at a restaurant,’ even though we’ve done it once or twice a week for the last three years.

I reassure her gently that she will begin to understand once we get into the car. Something about the forward motion of driving almost immediately calms her fears — as long as there isn’t too much traffic. She is very anxious when too many cars are around us, particularly if they are driving fast.

So we take city streets rather than the freeway; she prefers that and I do, too. She always comments on the lovely homes, wonders if they are expensive, is shocked at the HUGE number of cars on the road, the ones that move and the ones that are parked. Three times on our eight-minute ride, she asks if there are lots of accidents here.

Always, there is fear just beneath the surface. How can there not be? She cannot formulate sentences very well, she cannot see much, her hearing is very compromised and she is confused about almost everything. I’d be anxious, too. It doesn’t help that she is constitutionally wired for anxiety, but this is different from the ‘old’ Ruth. It is almost primitive, child-like and very, very sad.

The weather is a little blustery today and it doesn’t take much for mom to feel cold. Fortunately, there is only a 30-foot walk from elevator to restaurant and I hurry her inside to the waiting area. Hurry being a very relative term — how fast can you go with a 94-year-old using a walker, who walks with a shuffle and is easily exhausted?

We’re told it will be a fifteen-minute wait — a first, for us. There are students crawling around everywhere today. Apparently it was a minimum day at all the middle schools in town and every one of those kids decided to go to the mall.

A lovely small grace of this outing is The Perfect Table – a booth by the window. The only negative is that it’s harder for me to help her with utensils, napkin, food and drink when I’m sitting across from instead of next to her.

It’s been several months since we’ve been to this particular restaurant and it is immediately clear that she has taken several steps further into the mist since our last visit. She is unsure about pizza but does decide that baked potato soup sounds good. I order both. Her long-time favorite pepperoni is now too spicy, however, and she searches frantically for something to drink.

“Here, Mom,” I say, reaching across the table to scoot the glass closer to her. “Just lean over a little and sip from your straw.”

She cannot find it and panic begins to rise in me — the glass will fall into her lap, she’ll stab herself in the eye with that straw, why didn’t I sit next to her?

Apparently, anxiety is contagious.

She manages to find it and sucks greedily at the cold beverage. “Ah, that’s better.”

But it is not better, is it? And it won’t be, this side of heaven.

Today, I say it at least twenty different times: “I am your daughter; you are my mom.” It does not stick. Ever. She is always amazed. Or confused. Or both. On the way to the restaurant: “This is such a nice car. Did your parents get it for you?” “Well, no, Mom, I’m old now, long-married. And besides, you are my parent — you are my mom.”

Silence.

Then: “I am?? Well, that was pretty smart of me, wasn’t it?”

 Yeah, mom. Pretty smart. Pretty darn smart.

_______

I am grateful for my life. She and my dad gave me that great gift seventy-one years ago today, after four years of infertility, special medical treatments, and the grace of God.

I was wanted, I was loved, I was cared for. Always.

We laughed a lot in our home and we were given permission to ask questions and to search for answers. Faith, family, education, care for others — these were the values taught and modeled. My mother was my first and greatest spiritual mentor and guide. Those pieces of her are no longer available to either of us, but I choose to believe that they are still here . . . inside of me. And that I will see her again, even richer and deeper than she once was. In the meantime, I will love who she is now.

Happy Birthday to me.

I love you, Mom.

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Comments

  1. So bittersweet…love, the most beautiful and most painful gift of life….Happy Birthday, dear friend.

    • Thank you, Dea. I think it will be a fun day. My ‘girls’ (2 daughters and my DIL) are taking me to tea at one of this town’s finer hotels and then we’re all doing dinner together at my son’s and DIL’s home – there are 3 other January and 2 February birthdays in our circle and we’ll celebrate them all tonight. My husband and I had hoped to walk down the hill to the small village shopping area near our new home and have breakfast out, then walk home. But we woke to low clouds and wet streets. So I’ll happily settle for staying in bed with the covers til mid-morning. That is always a treat.

  2. So beautifully expressed, the sad and happy parts of life.

  3. Belated Happy Birthday! Your posts about your mother are beautiful and full of love and honor.

  4. Diana – You are walking a journey I never had to walk – losing our parents to cancers and aneurysm. You tell of the trek with such transparency and mercy, yet we ache to hear of how painful it is. What a BEAUTIFUL photo of you and your mom! Is she soothed by old hymns? It’s true of my SIL who suffers the same. Wishing for you a year of great energy and joy – Happy Birthday friend!

    • This is the last of our journeys, and all four of our parents had a form of dementia. This one is the most painful for me, I will admit. My dad’s was from Parkinson’s and depression and badly compressed arteries from brain to spine and was much quicker. Dick’s parents were both Alzheimer’s – his shorter and less difficult in some ways, hers very, very long and difficult. It’s a dreadful process. Thanks for your kind words and wishes, and yes, mom loves old hymns, in fact old songs of all kinds. She was singing bits of “Clementine” yesterday!(Which SIL – not the one I know, right?) The photo was taken for our church directory in November – when Dick and I had ours taken, the sample on the table was of a mom and daughter and a lightbulb went on for me. Glad we did it.

      • No, Barb is having a ball with grands and art of all kinds – and they love living on a nearby lake, Mike taking a respite from interim ministry for a couple of months – even though, as I say this, he’s probably on his way again. My SIL is married to Mel’s brother and lives in Wisconsin in memory care – dear sweet, intelligent, teacher, pastor’s wife – now unable to converse at all.

  5. Ohhh, I love what she said, “That was pretty smart of me…..” But I feel everything under the surface of that statement😞

    • Exactly, Lori. Later, in the restaurant, she bemoaned the truth that she just can’t think! And I remember my FIL saying similar things on his journey, especially near the beginning of it . . .”My mind is so fuzzy,” he’d mutter, shaking his head and sighing. And, indeed, it was.

      I hate this process, but am earnestly seeking to find beauty in it somehow. And every once in a while, I get a glimmer, a sign, a reminder of the mom I knew so long. For those, I am grateful. And for the beauty that shines from her all the time, even though most of who she is has long ago left the building.

  6. sandy hay says:

    Yes..it was pretty smart of her. Your mom may not realize she has a sense of humor but this is a remembrance to bring a broad smile 🙂

    • Mom has always had a great sense of humor – and she still tries to crack jokes. And as much as she is able to understand things now, I think she did think it was a funny thing to say. But as Lori noted above, there are so many layers underneath that statement, that it is both funny and achingly sad.

  7. I’m glad you record your memories of these outings with your Mom, both in words and photos. As difficult as it is, I know the time spent with her is precious to you. I wish I could have spent more time with my parents before their final days, but we lived a relatively long distance from them so had to be content with periodic visits that were always too short.

    Wishing you a Happy Birthday!

    • Thanks for these kind words, Carol. I know that many (maybe most?) people are not as fortunate as I am in in terms of geography. That is a great gift to me and I am deeply grateful she was willing to make the move north to live nearby.

  8. Just beautiful, Diana. And honest. When those little humorous comments appear, I always wonder where that ability is housed. My father used to come out with them and I always felt like he was waiting to see if I picked up on it.

    • They are always a fun and quite pleasant surprise, aren’t they? She was always a very funny person and it’s nice to see flashes of that now and again. Thanks for reading and for leaving such kind words.

  9. Thank you for sharing your journey. I am struck by your ability to find the beauty in all of this. What a gift. I had a hard time with that, although I did always see the sweetness of my dad most of the time. And the photo is sweet…what a good idea.

    Happy birthday. I am chugging right along behind you. Thank you for leading the way.

    • Some days, I have to work really hard to see anything beautiful in this slow evaporative process. But always, she looks lovely. And almost always, she acts lovely, too. So it’s pretty easy. Thanks for the birthday wishes!

  10. You have a wonderful photo to treasure, and better yet, wonderful memories of your Mom.
    It is hard when no one who cares for her knows her life and personhood, isn’t it?
    I knew I was inspired to make a kind of album quilt for my MIL. A nurse thanked me, it opened Loretta’s life to her and gave her something to talk about with her. It was a family project and it comforted me at least that she was wrapped in our love.
    Like your sweet Mama, she was generally smiling and calm. The days eventually came when we shared meals with her at the care facility as it was too hard for her to understand going out.

    Happy birthday, Diana, I’m so glad that our world today allows us to visit across the country. May your godly influence continue to spread light and love.

    • Exactly right, Elaine. That is a hard part of this journey – being the only one who regularly sees who knows all of who she was/is. And the quilt?? What a GORGEOUS idea. Wish I were talented enough to do something like that. We shared a weekly meal with my mom when my MIL was living there. She died about 20 months ago and I’ve only been taking her out since then – used to do both. I know there is a finite number of times we can do this, but I’ll keep it up as long as she enjoys it. Thanks for your good wishes and kind words.

  11. I am always, always at a loss for words for the beauty and the pain in what you share. What a beautiful mother. What a beautiful daughter.

  12. Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Diana…such a beautiful, tender, bittersweet post….filled with love from before, love now, and love for what will be….which will be the truest, deepest, most perfect love–a life shared in eternity. Your post both grieves and affirms. It is heartrending to watch someone whom you love and honor so much regress in such a tangible way. And yet through and through you affirm your love and appreciation for your mother just as she is right now. Her illness makes no difference in how you treat her. You honor your mother with every word written here, and your every action on her behalf. I can think of so many (and know some) who would not honor their mothers were their mothers unable to communicate and serve *them* any longer. There is something utilitarian about that. You love when she can’t love back (at least not in the way you had once experienced). When I read this: “Those pieces of her are no longer available to either of us, but I choose to believe that they are still here …,” I had not yet read the end of the sentence, and I thought you were saying that you choose to believe that the pieces of her (values, faith, etc.) were still there….somewhere deep in herself, but just unavailable on the surface. The reason I thought this, is that I was thinking yesterday about my beloved friend (my age) who just died from Alzheimer’s. She could not communicate w/ me. Hers were now vacant eyes, mouth continuously agape, no way to acknowledge even my presence. And yet I have wondered: Barb was a child of God. His Spirit lived inside her. Might it stand to reason, somewhere deep, deep down in her heart (where the tenderest of secret communications occur) that her spirit could still commune with His spirit? So I thought you were saying that maybe those spiritual pieces or means of soul communication were still in your mother. It’s not what you were saying, but isn’t it a lovely thought? Let’s pray she and Jesus are still conversing in the secret place. One thing is sure, He does live inside her and will never leave her. I am glad you and your precious mother shared your birthday. You (and she) are richer for it.
    Love
    Lynn

    • You know, Lynn, she does still talk to Jesus – I get the privilege of overhearing it from time to time. And I almost wrote that in that line you quote. I chose to go with the heritage piece for the purposes of this particular essay, but both things are true. Thanks for your lovely words and I’m so sorry about your dear friend.

  13. Just lovely, Diana. So hard, but lovely. You love and honour your mum well! Oh, and happy birthday again!

  14. Reading your story here, Diana, so moved my heart. Having also had a parent with Alzheimer’s who has now passed, I can’t read about your mom without it bringing tears to my eyes. You are such a blessing to her whether she understands now or not. Certainly, she will one day . . .
    Blessings on your birthday!

    • Thank you, Martha, for your kind words and good wishes. And I hang onto the hope that she will one day be all of who she is . . . and more.

  15. You are a daughter extraordinaire, Diana. Martha (above) is right: Your mom may not understand what a blessing you are, but one day she undoubtedly will. No doubt you are also a blessing to others who see you together–the people at her nursing home, the people at the restaurants, people at church, friends, neighbors, family, and US — those who read your blog. You are reflecting God’s glory, Diana!

    • Thank you so much for these kind words, dear Nancy. I hope you’re right – that others are blessed by our presence. I’m grateful for your kindness and your encouragement.

  16. Happy Birthday to YOU. What a lovely photo of you and your mother. The family resemblance is striking. I understand about dementia and the loss of memory as my mother experienced that also. She thought I was a good friend but when she was eventually placed in a wonderful care home, she named a little Mexican aid, “Hazel.” I am not sure if she though the sweet girl was me or it was all in fun.

  17. So many people know this story up-close-and-personal! And I’m betting your mom gave that aide your nae because somewhere deep inside, she knew that was a special name, one she gave to a special person many years before. Thanks for stopping by today, Hazel.