Mom turned 86 years old this week. The personal treadmill that often describes my life remained on max incline and max speed so I arrived at the facility later than I wanted. I need not have worried.
Mom had already been served cake and ice cream by the staff and was in fine spirits. As is my custom, I brought food for the staff and thanked them again for loving on my parents in my absence. All of us shared the chocolate covered strawberries that I’d brought and the staff brought out the cake and ice cream again for me.
I pinned Mom with a giant button proclaiming her again and we paraded around the common room arm in arm. We were not alone.
Something about my visits, probably the noise and commotion Mom and I create, I suppose laughter really is contagious… anyway Mom and I were joined by another resident. Mom on one side of me, this other lady on the other side so I leaned over and hugged her, too.
Finally Mom and I found a corner to ourselves and sat down in some rocking chairs, or so we thought. A gentleman resident came over and proceeded to update me on my mother,
“She’s looking pretty good to have been drinking all day,” he said.
I looked at my life-long-tee-totaling mother and replied back to him, “I agree, she does look wonderful.”
This same gentleman confides that he’s about to be arrested again (not true of course). When I ask him what for this time, he smiles and says he doesn’t know, he can’t even remember what they arrested him for the first time. We laugh together.
A gentlemen across the room yells out, “Heeey Jo!” I yell back at him. He and I have become buddies over the months.
Striking up my conversation with Mom again I ask her how it feels to be 86 years old.
“I’m not 86,” she replies, “I’m 99 or more.”
Apparently she’s been telling the entire staff she’s 99 when reminded that it was her birthday. Okay, we’ll take it.
In another corner of the room a family visits their loved one, she’s largely unresponsive… until her family starts singing to her. I listen intently and sure enough, I can make out the elder woman’s quiet soprano joining in, in perfect harmony.
A new lady walks up to Mom and I with a stern, fierce look on her face. She leans in close to me and only after a few minutes finally says to me (with a completely straight face mind-you), “…You’re a good looking, man.”
“Why thank-you very much,” I reply. Mom quickly chimes in, “He is… he’s my brother.” And Mom beams.
Another woman has been watching me for some time, as I make eye contact with her, her face slowly evolves into the biggest, brightest, toothless smile you’ve ever seen and she holds out her hand in a wave to me. I give her my biggest, brightest, teeth-filled smile back and wave back at her.
There are days when I visit when the mood is dark and heavy; the staff is tense, the residents cranky; on those visits it’s labor just to spend five minutes there. But fortunately not today, not on Mom’s birthday. Smiles and waves were the order of the day. The chocolate-covered strawberries didn’t hurt either.
Dad is in his room sleeping. To be expected in the afternoon. At some point in the midst of all of the commotion, Mom and I slip back and check on him. Mom straightens his covers and I mess with his hair. I probably do this because (a) I’m bald and (b) I know he would never have let me touch his hair when he was younger. Mostly it is just a way to let him know I’m there since he mostly keeps his eyes close these days. I mess his hair or rub his chin and speak to him. ”Hey, Pop-Pop…!”
Back in the main room my friend who is on self-appointed drinking watch comes up to us again, looks at Mom and asks, Do you think she’s happy. Good question.
I turn and ask, “Mom, are you happy?”
Mom smiles and says, “Yes I am.”