Today the beautiful woman above, my mom, turns 90. A huge milestone by any measure and one that merits huge celebrations. Sadly, I’m unable to mark the big day with her and our family because of COVID.
It makes me sad and it makes me mad.
For her 75th birthday my two sisters and I treated her to a weekend at a resort. She was so happy as captured in the above photo and we were hoping to do the same this year. We also thought about buying her a nice new comfy chair, but if you know my mom, you know she said “I don’t need a new chair…my old one is fine.” So, instead of giving her the gift of a massage or a chair, we are all in our separate homes celebrating the woman who made and molded our family. And to make matters worse, I just got word it’s snowing. Snowing in Santa Fe for my mom’s 90th birthday. What I wouldn’t give…
More sad. More mad.
If anyone deserves to be pampered, it’s my mom. Raised an only child by her loving but strict grandparents while her mom served a local family as a live-in nanny and house cleaner, she managed to always hold her head high and aim for the stars. She reached that pinnacle when she met and married my dad, a Navy veteran who served for many years in state and federal government positions. She was the quintessential Harriett to his Ozzy. She was the pretty one next to his handsome 6’1” frame. So pretty and so stylish. I like to say I got my sense of style from her as well as my obsession with perfume. Regardless of our family’s financial situation at any given time, mom always had perfume and I have wonderful memories of her getting ready to go out and spraying it on. I’ve kept the tradition and passed it down to our daughter.
Mom’s dream life took a nightmarish turn though when my dad suffered a heart attack when I was very young. Like the proud and hardworking man he was however, he rallied and rebounded. Many years later however he succumbed to colon cancer. September of my senior year of college. Cancer killed him and it essentially killed my mom.
She was devastated. This was a woman who yes, eventually went to work as a public school librarian, but who gave everything to her marriage and was lost without it. My first clue was their checks, which had the name “Mr. and Mrs.” rather than both first names. My parents were old school and relearning life was difficult for my mom.
She finally came around somewhat, volunteering at various places in Santa Fe and travelling some, but she was never really the same. She loves her three girls, her grandkids, and her great grandson, but the deaths of two grandkids have taken their toll on her. Yet today at 90 years young, she is for the most part healthy, albeit frail and often sad. She’s alone but in a weird way prefers that. As we commemorate her birthday, my sisters and I are in the middle of the difficult task of deciding just how long she can continue to live alone. Her life-long nightmare has been to be put in “one of those homes,” so we have to both respect that while choosing what’s ultimately best for her. I don’t envy anyone who has been through this. It is truly heartbreaking and I cannot even fathom the thought of selling her home…my childhood home.
But today we celebrate her and all she’s given us. I firmly believe my mom’s constant prayers saved me from many a disaster and am so very grateful to her for them and for passing along her strong and fervent Catholic faith to me. She wasn’t the perfect mom yet expected perfection from us, which I was far from. She did her best and I’d like to say an impressive job considering she had no true motherly role model. And even though she wasn’t great at instilling self confidence in me, somehow I’ve always known she wants the very best for me. She almost single-handedly saw to it that my dad agreed to pay for out-of-state college tuition…how they did so is still a mystery to me…and for that I am also forever grateful. She also loves my daughter more than life itself, even though she’s never quite figured out how to be a “grandma” and stop being the “mom.”
She’s a tough one, for sure. She’s often negative yet forever faithful; humble but tough to please. She can be critical and stubborn yet would do anything for her family.
Ironically, yesterday’s entry in my “Mornings with Jesus” daily devotional touched on the subject of taking care of aging parents. It reminded readers that in His last hours on the cross, Jesus himself entrusted His mom to John. Can you imagine?! No pressure, right? It then went on to say that taking care of aging parents is hard but it’s also a blessing and that in doing so, we can count on Jesus’ strength to get us through it.
It’s my sister and brother-in-law as well as my niece and nephew-in-law who need that strength right now as they are the family that lives near mom. Being the “tag you’re it cuz you’re the closest” main caretakers of an aging parent isn’t something anyone envies, but I do kinda envy them today since they get to be with her. I hope they take lots of photos and I hope she’s happy. Funny thing: when asked what she wants for dinner tonight…anything, name it…she chose enchiladas. Stacked. Like they should be.
My mom is the only living parent my husband and I have. I’m grateful for her every day and especially today. It’s been one heckuva year, a year that’s ruined so much including being with my mom today, but it’s also another year I get to celebrate her life. A 90-year life filled with promise and pain, but also hope and love. Here’s hoping for many more to come. Happy Birthday mom! Ninety never looked so good!