My mother was born 80 years ago today. I have written in the past regarding epic birthday moments. There was her 60th Surprise party on St. Patrick’s Day, that she thought was going to be her grandson’s first birthday celebration. On her 50th when I got her the first new swimsuit she’d had in twenty-five years and she posed for a commemorative photo (in the Minnesota March snow) in a lawn chair my eldest brother gifted her.
I am reminded several times each month that many of my friends are joining the club of the parentless. What was somewhat exclusive when I unwillingly joined it nearly twelve years ago seems commonplace now as the Facebook tributes and condolences frequently appear in my feed. My best friend’s parents have departed in that interim, as have their next door neighbors, who were my own parents best friends. A couple of our friends lost both of their parents in the last year and we are at that phase in life which has transitioned from socializing at weddings and baby showers to catching up with friends over luncheons in church basements. Just recently my husband’s father died, though Alzheimer’s had stolen him years earlier. His mother struggles with the frustrations of dementia, a version which cruelly behaves like a rewind button and has her share the same anecdote a dozen or more times in a half hour or initiate a phone call to the person she only moments before ended a conversation with, but has no recollection of.
When a friend experiences the death of a parent I do two things. I encourage them to enjoy the shared remembrances in the days ahead; friends, neighbors, aunts and uncles often have fond recollections of interests and events that even adult children are totally unaware of. I also like to share that the memories that bring a tear to the eye during that initial raw phase (immediately following a death) eventually become the memories that will bring a smile or that they will share with others so their loved one is not forgotten.
I remember after my father died that I wore his old work socks for many years until they were all worn out and I hung onto a blouse he had bought me as a birthday gift for perhaps twenty years beyond fitting, not because I intended to ever wear it again but because I knew I would never receive another gift from him. I was mistaken, I still get gifts from my parents on a regular basis. An event that triggers a memory, a glance at one of their grand kids, my own words or behaviors that mimic them.
When I open a buffet or desk drawer and come across an old greeting card from anyone I am reminded of my mother who painstakingly chose cards for friends and family members but who also hung onto most any correspondence she ever received. When I am eating and slop on my front, I am reminded it is a genetic trait passed down from my mother. One that happened with such frequency that we developed a code word. While dining out if I said “shelf” Dorothy knew to glance down at the front of her top to see if it were merely crumbs on “the shelf” or if she needed to dip the corner of her napkin in her ice water to blot away a spot.
This year I received a letter from my mother, a letter written twenty-seven years ago. Though it was not written to me, upon reading it I am sure it was intended for me. Jeff’s aunt while clearing through decades of her own paperwork was going through letters from her sister (my mother in-law). They had the habit of not only sharing newspaper clippings and programs from weddings or funerals the other had not attended but also passing along letters which they had received from others. She passed along to me a letter that my mother had written (to my then future mother in-law) in the week after we had told Jeff’s parents we were getting married (they had been out of the country when we shared the news with others) and her happiness was palatable upon the paper. “What do you think of Jeff and Nancy’s news? Do you think you can handle two Rose children in your family? I am very happy for them.” It came as sort of an endorsement from beyond the grave, none of the misgivings covertly exchanged among others who questioned why so soon or came up with unkind assessments to share, like “they don’t even know each others middle names”. Gerard and Elizabeth, those are our middle names and while for us they’re not cornerstones of our marriage, they were actually known to each other even early on in our brief courtship. Ultimately “two Rose children” did not remain in the family but Dorothy was equally supportive when that happened too.
Today we will celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday, that premature twin who began her life with the loss of her brother. We will do it while celebrating the 21st birthday of her eldest grandson, whose birthday was four days ago but who just arrived home from college early this morning. It is my assumption that at some point during the meal I will glance down and have slopped something on my front, and I will smile and simply accept it as another gift from my mother.
Other reflections on my mother are available on my blog. Feel free to share and comment.