One year ago today my mother had her favorite pizza as her birthday meal. We had a family gathering in the palliative care unit of Ottawa’s Bruyère Hospital. We didn’t know it would be her last meal.
We knew she wouldn’t be with us much longer, but her spirits were good and she loved the food. I guess after that the hospital food lost its appeal – she wasn’t interested in food once she’d had that pizza. It was almost as if she was checking things off her to-do list.
A year later and I’m not sure how I feel on this day. For the first time in my life I won’t be wishing my mother a happy birthday today. I will admit to not really grasping that concept.
She lived a long life, and was spiritually prepared for death. She knew where she was going and that both Jesus and my father would be there.
She disliked the process of dying, and was fearful that it might be painful, but at 91 she knew it was time. Intellectually I can accept that. Emotionally it is much harder.
She was 89 when we moved to Germany. She wasn’t happy with us leaving Ottawa. That’s probably the understatement of the year. Yet there were benefits.
Faced with not seeing us, except for the annual vacation we take in Ottawa, she decided that she wasn’t too old to learn something new. She bought a tablet and went online. Using Skype, we could see each other.
At least, she could see me. At times the tablet was a challenge. She never did learn how to call me, but I initiated video calls two or three times a week. I think we probably spent more time talking than when I lived around the corner.
But I didn’t see her as often as she saw me. Her vision wasn’t the best, and the Skype icons weren’t easy for her to see.
Usually at some point in the call she would manage to turn off her camera, and she usually couldn’t find the button to turn it on again. I told her it didn’t matter – I knew what she looked like. Funny thing is, she never hit the disconnect button not muted herself. It was always the video that got turned off.
A side benefit was she discovered Facebook and YouTube. She derived hours of pleasure from those – though I must admit she had difficulty figuring out how to find something a second time.
She also impressed the younger staff at her retirement residence. They were amazed that someone her age was so proficient online.
Aging, as she frequently told me during the last decade or so of her life, is no fun. I get that. Just as you are old enough to have some sense of the world, your body starts falling apart.
My maternal grandmother was 65 or 66 when she died. My mother didn’t have that close example of how to age. She kind of had to figure out things on the fly, on her own.
I am so privileged that I, as I age, have her example to follow. My father’s too, though he died at a relatively young 85.
My mother didn’t like aging – but she didn’t let it slow her down. She took an interest in the world around her and the world at large. I frequently disagreed with her opinion on the news of the day – but at least she knew what that news was.
She was legally blind, but didn’t allow that to slow her down. She read incessantly, using either audio books or magnifiers.
Until the last year or so of her life, when carpal tunnel limited her movements, she would knit while watching television. Afghans, scarves, hats, mitts, blankets – all to be given away, usually to those in need.
She made baby clothes for mothers at the shelter, sweaters for the grandchildren – it kept her hands busy. When she died a friend took her unfinished projects and made sure they were finished and that her work would continue to bless others.
She did the puzzles in the newspaper every day, especially the Sudoku. She’d heard that doing them keeps your mind sharp.
If there was a lecture or discussion at the retirement home, she was sure to be in attendance. She gave meaning to the term “life-long learner.”
I guess what I am trying to say is that I miss her. Today will be a hard day in many ways.
But not as hard as it might be. As a Christian, I know that I will see her again. That provides comfort, even as I feel the loss.
Thank you for letting me share a little bit of my soul with you today. I’m going to type the words that I wish I could say.
“Happy Birthday Mum!”