• Happy Birthday, Mom

    Today is my mom's birthday. 
     She would have been 91 years old today if she had lived.

    Happy Birthday, Mom!

    I haven't written about her recently.  As her birthday approached,  I realized that there was a time when this blog was almost totally devoted to our experience together as she aged reaching end of life, and as I cared for her.  I think it is time to make a return trip to the life of a woman I admired and loved.

    If you are curious about caregiving generally, or my time with mom during those difficult last years, you can find those posts listed under the Label - Through My Caregiver's Eyes.  Labels can be found on the right side of my blog and if you select that label, the blog will sort out all those posts.

    The caregiver part of my life seems like a far distant memory - even though it only ended four years ago.  But I am so very glad I documented that time on this blog. I hold the memories (good and sad) securely in my life through this link.  I consider that experience to have formed me into the person I am today.  I am stronger and more understanding of the road ahead of me as I age.  I am indebted to my mom is more ways than I can count.

    Mom and her younger sister.
    They were very close.
    Mom was about 12 years old.
    This post is not about the caregiving experience.  It is about the woman I called mom - who was raised in a loving family as a child, who was beautiful and smart, and appeared to have a bright future ... and who made one misfortunate choice - a choice sealed with a vow before God in a church - and who lived for 24 years honoring that vow at great expense to herself.

    My mom and dad when they were dating.
    She is about 19 years old.
    My mom's name was Elaine.  I was named for her by my dad.  In the stunning random spin of  genetics, I have favored her in many ways over all of my life.  I thought we were different in only one way - the way we approached adversity.  She would live around it and with it.  Despite many terrible life experiences, she remained an easy-going sweet person all her life - even into dementia.  I have a tendency to meet adversity head on and fight through it.  I used to believe that difference separated us.  But as you will read later - maybe we were more alike than I ever thought.

    Mom with her father, her grandmother and me.  She was
    a dedicated and loving mother
    but also strict in her child-rearing.
    Sadly, by the time this picture was taken, she knew her marriage had been a mistake.  My dad suffered from alcoholism - an issue that I guess wasn't evident before saying "I do."  Now-a-days folks typically live together before marriage and some of these issues can be discovered before taking that vow.  I am not a big proponent of 'living together,' but I understand the value it holds in really getting to know a person.  Of course, this was the 1940s - a different time.

    Our young family.
    So much is hidden behind those smiles.

    Mom was the glue that held us together.  She raised two girls to be completely whole and worthy citizens of this world - no easy task in the environment we called home.  As a young child and teen, I never understood why she continued this marriage.  But as I grew I began to see the whole picture somewhat differently.  She was a stay-at-home mom with 2 girls to raise, she was hundreds of miles from her extended family, she was raised to believe that once married - you were on your own - help from your parents was not to be expected, and because of her sweet personality, she did not appear strong enough to make such a difficult break in the family.  What I didn't understand at the time was that my mom took the difficult path ... the path that involved great strength.  At my dad's death I learned the true nature of her choice - it was simple.   What held us together wasn't glue - but the bedrock of her personality and her love for him.  Love is a powerful bond. My dad loved us as well - and he was a good man beneath the alcohol, but addiction is also be a powerful bond.  She chose to stay in her marriage until death.  Mom took the more difficult path in life.  I see that now.  

    Hindsight is 20/20 - or so they say.  It is most certainly true in my case.  

    After dad's death, mom's life bloomed.  She really was better without him.  She had a satisfying full time job, she became a grandmother several times over, she traveled to Europe with friends, and she had an active retirement.  She earned the peace of mind and fun experiences she had in the last half of her life.  And as I looked back at her married years - many married years that I was old enough to remember - I saw the raw strength she mustered to be a mother and wife. It is only as an adult myself that I could have judged that.

    Mom and I during one of her first rehab experiences.
    Her declining years are well documented in my caregiving posts.  When I saw mental changes that made me suspect she needed help - I stepped up.  She resisted, of course, but I didn't back down.  She eventually lived with me and then in the very last years she needed to be moved to Assisted Living and Nursing Care.  Her end was not kind to her.  Dementia is not a kind disease.  Her mom also had dementia so the genetic link I have to that line of the family is at times worrisome.  But - I have absolutely no regrets about the 8 years devoted to this woman's care.  Her gifts to me were the gift of life and her guiding hand to normal adulthood despite a dysfunctional father.  Her gifts cannot be topped by any care I gave her in the end.  It was a debt I owed.

    I believe that sometimes life creates a mountain for you to get passed.
    Some of us go around it.
      Some of us go over it.  
    Some of us go through it.  
    I am a 'go through it' type of person.

    I think I chose the more difficult path.
    I see now so did my mom.

    Until you have had a mountain put in your way
    you may not really know what kind of person you are.

    Dear Mom,

    I miss your smiling face every single day.  It is hard to write those words without tears even after 4 years.  Rest in peace dear mom.  Your legacy lives on in your daughters for whom you gave up much.   Happy Birthday!

    Love,
    Elaine

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