I consider myself fortunate that my mother is still living. For most folks my age, "mother" is only a (usually beloved) memory. Today is Mom's 85th birthday. While she will get flowers, cards, and congratulatory calls to commemorate the day, her consciousness of them is a fleeting thing. When the sun rises tomorrow, her memories will be gone. Three strokes in the last six years have deprived her of the ability to do everything she once loved - cooking, sewing, playing the piano, reading. It's this last loss that is particularly biting, at least to me. She taught me to read. Now that a book with my name on it is about to appear, it will make no more of a ripple in her mind than a passing sensation.
We've seen this before. My mother-in-law struggled against Alzheimer's disease for nine years before succumbing. Like my mother, she was a librarian. Like her, she also lost the ability to read and to play bridge. In thinking about life's losses, what is sometimes most poignant is the fact that, before death comes along, we often must surrender some of those things that make us human. In my case, Mom can remember that I am someone she loves, even if she can no longer call my name. Watching her decline brings to mind the mordant wisecrack about how to plan for old age: Have the Hemlock Society on speed-dial.
After we visited with Mom last weekend, my wife and I repaired to a beachfront hotel for some recuperation. Walking along the beach, observing the delight of small children playing, brings back a memory, specifically a picture that is somewhere in my family's files. It was taken sometime in the early 1950s. I couldn't have been more than a couple of years old. It shows Dad, Mom, and me at Panama City Beach: Mom and Dad watch as I devour an Oreo. It's just the kind of memory that, even if the actual memory is gone, seeing the picture brings back something enduring: My belief that love is the most powerful unseen force in the universe. Gravity doesn't hold a candle to it. Although my mother is gone in all but physical presence, she is always with me.
Happy birthday, Mom.