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Mom's Birthday


It’s my Mom’s birthday today and I didn’t call her to wish her a Happy Birthday. She is 87 years old and now alone as my father passed away last year. He died one day before my Mom’s birthday.

Yesterday was as expected a sad day. I tried to think of all the wonderful memories I had with my Dad but the loss is still too great. It’s like a veil that doesn’t allow you to see beyond his last days.

Still, I’ve always called my Mom on her Birthday. She is in the later stages of dementia and no longer knows about her Birthday. Frankly she has little recall of anything at this point. I suspect now that I called my Mom on her most recent birthdays mostly for my Dad. He adored my Mom and calling mom made Dad happy. I used to call throughout the year knowing the calls gave comfort to my Dad and perhaps my Mom but I liked hearing their voices and hoping that they could remember me. Dad was on and off for many years but at his most lucid point the night before he died. Dad looked at me with a loving smile as he held my hand tight and asked about me and asked how Cathy, my wife was doing. I don’t think he remembered Cathy’s name most of the time in the past six years or more.

Still, why not just call? Part of me wanted to but I also know that my Mom gets confused and feels uncertain with phone calls. This started many years ago and the discomfort was there even when she had more memory and tools. I would sit by her as family called and she would do her best to let the caller think she knew who she was talking to. After the call…absolute relief and with a smile she would say “I don’t know who I was just talking to”.

This is 2016. I took care of my parent’s well-being for decades. First I simply helped with the bills and planning then as they aged I would travel from another state to clean the house and fix things that broke. Both of my parents were so fond of these little things I did. They would point out each object I repaired each and every visit Cathy and I made. Typically Dad would point to something like the sink, smile then ask “you know who fixed that?”. I would smile and my Dad would pat me firmly on the back- his form of a hug.

In the 90’s my care gradually became more intense and finally after we entered the new century they required near weekly intervention. Things were rough for them but they were fiercely independent and had a strong drive.

Finally I flew out emergently as things were not going well for them. Dad told me Mom was getting weak. I got there late that night. Dad was still up waiting for me at midnight but Mom was asleep as was my aunt who had dementia. The morning arrived and the first thing I heard was my Dad calling me for help. I ran to the hallway and saw that my Dad was trying to hold up my now semiconscious Mom up. He was trying to help her to the bathroom. I carried Mom back to her bed and quickly noticed that she was losing awareness and her right leg was limp. I knew what the possibilities were and I knew that she had a serious enough event that she would need surgical intervention regardless of the possibilities in my mind.

I gathered my dad and Aunt into the car and drove to the nearest Medical Center I trusted. The ride was rough. My Dad was upset and worried, my aunt was agitated and speaking really fast and my Mom looked like she was near death.

My Mom was operated on that same day but the wait was rough on my dad and my aunt. My Mom was indeed dying as her brain was getting compressed to 2/3rd of the space by a fluid build up related to a recent head injury and late bleed.
By midnight Mom was stable and I took dad and my aunt home knowing we needed to get back to the hospital  that was 1 ½ hours away early the next morning. Unfortunately the next morning again presented with a disaster. My Dad called me again and as I ran down the stairs I could see his pallor and he was wobbly. Just as I got to him he collapsed but I caught him. Off to the hospital again but this time I had to get my Dad admitted for all the possibilities including a heart attack. I actually can’t really remember much after my siblings arrived to take over. I think I was so focused that I was barely able to drive back to the city for my flight back home. With all my siblings there I was certain that my parents would be well cared for. I got back to the hotel, collapsed on the bed and for the first time in my life I cried.

I saved my Mom’s life that day, I saved my Dad’s life in other ways including proper meals, nurse home visits, house cleaning and more. I was my dad’s lifeline when my Mom couldn’t recognize him or when she was angry at him over something she would never have worried about when she was well. The phone calls were effective. In 2008 both my Mom’s health declined and there was the possibility that she might need additional surgery and my Dad was working so hard to keep things going he didn’t take care of himself. I did get him into a urologist and the biopsy did show that he had the most aggressive prostate cancer one can get. Even at his advanced age radiation therapy was recommended to save him from the horrible pain as the cancer spreads to the bones.

At this point I had my parent’s come out to my State for healthcare with great results.

I have always been there for them and now there is no need for me. My dad has passed away and my Mom will still get visits from me. I’ll stay a few hours, try to sing with her, try to make her laugh then leave. The moment I leave all that memory is lost to my Mom. Cathy and I will continue with the hopes that somewhere inside her she knows she is loved and not forgotten.

Perhaps when I visit in two months we can treat it like it’s her birthday? Mom might enjoy that and while I still respect and honor her on this day, to Mom it means nothing. No phone call today.