Thursday, April 09, 2009

100th Birthday

Sunday, April 5th, was my mother's 100th birthday. It was a small affair, attended only by myself, my wife, and our two daughters. There were several reasons we didn't want to make too big a deal out of it.

First, my mom has good days and bad days, and I didn't much care for the idea of having a lot of people descend on my mom's nursing home if it turned out to be one of the bad days. In the event, she was mostly okay. (The nurse told me that mom hadn't wanted to get out of bed that morning, but that they had coaxed her into her wheel chair because they knew we were coming.) She was awake for most of the two hours we were there, and not in too much pain, and alert and in moderately good spirits, so we could have had more visitors, but you never know.

Mom having a cup of tea as one of the nurses we really like joins us for the celebration.

Tigana, Kasia (just peeking in over Tigana's shoulder), me, and Mary with my Mom on her 100th birthday. Mom is appreciatively cuddling with the extra soft, fuzzy purple blanket we gave her as a birthday present.



Second, we had had a big reception for mom's 90th, when she still lived on her own, and Mary had catered for about 60 people. But when we looked at the invitation list from that birthday, except for a few relatives, there wasn't actually anyone left on it... Mom has managed to outlive all of her friends and contemporaries. The one niece who still lives in Edmonton offered to come, but had to cancel at the last minute as her husband came down with a terrible cold -- and you don't take a bad cough into a nursing home (unless you're looking for an earlier inheritance).

Third, I wasn't sure how big a deal to make of the fact that mom had made it to 100. When we last discussed her age earlier this year, she thought she was about 92. When I told her she was actually 99, she became very depressed, and said "Well, if that's true, then I'm done!" Fortunately, she forgot the conversation, and when I returned the next day, thought she was in her 80s.

One of mom's surviving nieces (a woman Mom considers the daughter she never had) sent a great card. It's almost impossible to find a card that says "Happy 100th", 'cause, let's face it, there's not that large a market. And being blind, mom can't actually read her cards anymore. So they picked a birthday card that played "The Age of Aquarius" (which Mom could hear if not see); and the card read: "On your birthday, free you mind — it's not the age you are it's the age you believe in". Which is way too funny, given my mom's situation!

Most of the time Mom is in her Mother's back garden, having tea with her mother and her sister Evie, with occasional visits from either her brothers Tom and Charlie, or my brother Doug. It's 1948, she's 39, and her father has just passed away. She spends a lot of her time there, which in my view is a perfectly good place to be if the alternative is bedridden, blind, mostly deaf, and bored in a nursing home. The only problem for me is that mom isn't always clear on who I am, since in her world I won't be born for another 3 years; but she does seem to remember my daughters, Tigana and Kasia. I think their having unusual names helps her keep them straight. She hasn't remembered who Mary is since Mom went to the nursing home.

On my last visit up to Edmonton, Mom had started talking about her aunts, Rose, Daisy and Violet, whom she believed were staying with her at her house. As she chatted away about them, I thought, "say, here's a chance to take some notes!" because it is a part of the family genealogy I don't know well. (Mom was the one who kept all our relations straight, with Doug as our backup, but since her memory has failed and Doug is gone, there is no one left to ask who is who.) So I started jotting down some things and asking mom a few questions, hoping to probe a bit, but had to stop when mom mentioned that her dad had recently died (in her world) as the result of being attacked by raccoons. Oops. I'm pretty sure if it had been raccoons, someone would have mentioned that somewhere along the line, so I had to concede that mom's Alzheimer's makes her an unreliable source, and abandon my note-taking.

Her 100th birthday visit was good. She only eats pureed foods now, so we mashed up a piece of birthday cake with some tea (her drink of choice) and she wolfed that down faster than anything I've seen her eat in the last decade. When I commented that I hoped it wouldn't spoil her supper (her not eating enough being an issue) she responded that the birthday cake was a heck of a lot better than supper! (Actually the food in this particular nursing home is better than most; even pureed, Mom usually says how much she enjoys the food. She's just, at 100, not that interested in eating any more.) We gave her an extra soft, cuddly, purple fuzzy blanket for her birthday present, as she is perpetually cold, and she seemed to really like it, refusing to let go of it for the duration. And I got her a cup of tea, the one thing she can never get enough of.

For us, her reaching 100 is great in the sense that she has had a long and largely good life. She was taking care of herself right up to her move to the home two or three years ago; and was mostly lucid up to my brother's passing last year. His daily visits provided the stability she needed to stay anchored in this world, though she had already started to visit with her mom and Evie on a regular basis. But actually being 100 kind of sucks, and it saddens me to see how far her health has declined this year. Still, as long as she is happy visiting relatives, and she is not in too much pain, well and good.

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