South Charlotte

Cheering the day my mother turned 89

As I was busy organizing Mom's 89th birthday party, it seemed like yesterday that my family and I were celebrating her 88th.

I recalled the fun we had singing and dancing with her, but also worried at that time what the next year would hold as my mom, Rose Beebe, mentally and physically declined from Alzheimer's.

With Mom becoming weaker and more frail, it proved to be a difficult year for her and for us.

After several falls, two seizures and numerous trips to the emergency room, Mom was confined to a wheelchair. I grieved the loss of her mobility and so did she, struggling to understand what had happened to her.

But Mom has always had an inner resolve that astonished me and together we made it through this difficult, disheartening year and adjusted to the new phase in her disease.

Therefore, I was determined to celebrate another year of her strength, wisdom and humor and gathered my siblings and some of Mom's grandchildren to celebrate with cake, balloons and gifts.

But there was a slight problem - Mom was in a deep nap and we couldn't wake her up.

Alzheimer's can often disrupt a person's sleep-wake cycle, especially in the later stages, and there was no rousing her. Disappointed, we still celebrated, recalling memories of her in better times.

The next time I went to visit Mom, I hoped she would be awake so I could sing "Happy Birthday" to her.

Armed with a pocket of Hershey Kisses and a heart full of love, I was pleasantly surprised to find Mom the most alert I had seen her in weeks and in rare form.

"Happy Birthday!" I excitedly said, planting a big kiss on her cheek.

"What's happy about that?" she mischievously giggled.

"You're 89 years old! That's really something," I proudly noted.

"Eighty-nine is not very old. Do I look like it?" she laughed, tilting her head to one side. "I just enjoy life. I don't really feel old. I got a lot of people I love - my children. I love you so dearly I could cry. I loved you so much, I was so close to you. You don't know many people when you're old."

I was surprised and grateful for Mom's lucidity. She hadn't had much lately and many of her conversations were ramblings that made no sense to me.

I was becoming worried that she didn't know who I was anymore, and I have always dreaded the day that would come.

Despite her physical state, I've treasured my heart-to-heart connection with her and it was very strong on this day. I felt a huge sense of relief and wondered how this woman keeps moving beyond all her obstacles.

"We had a birthday party for you with balloons and cake, but you slept through it," I told her.

"I didn't know that," she replied with much curiosity. "I asked around town if there was any surprise."

"What's it like to be 89?" I asked her.

"Well, I don't mind. I try and let it hang away from me," she matter-of-factly stated. "I'm getting close to 100."

Then she yelled to the other residents in her memory care facility, "This is my baby so I'm going to live another 100 years." They silently nodded their heads.

I began to name everyone who came to the party and she got sentimental.

"I want my kids every day. I don't ever want anything to happen to them," she said, getting teary.

I gave her a hug to comfort her and she whispered in my ear, "You know enough to do so many things for me."

Our sweet embrace was soon interrupted when she shoved me out of the way and adamantly shouted out to her friends, "That's my girl, did you know that?" They silently nodded their heads again.

Then Mom looked at me and randomly asked, "Who would you trade me for if you could?"

I was caught off guard and decided to select someone that Mom and the ladies around her could recall from days gone by. So I jokingly answered, "Elvis."

Without skipping a beat, one of Mom's friends grabbed her walker, quickly pulled herself up and pleaded with all seriousness, "If you get Elvis, can I come live with you?"

I chuckled to myself, grateful for the comic relief.

Then I led Mom's friends in a touching rendition of "Happy Birthday" and wondered what kind of laughter and tears the next year would bring.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.