On June 5th my mother turned 96. That morning I drove over to see her and thought I might stay for lunch. I also had her mail and a small bouquet of flowers to bring to her. I arrived at Atria at 11:30, and as I walked to the front door I noticed someone sitting outside by door. To my surprise, it was my mother. Not only had she never done that before, but the temperature outside was close to 107 degrees.
But there she sat in her wheelchair holding a blue and pink helium balloon that said Happy Birthday!. She looked as if she were waiting for someone. It wasn’t me. I don’t tell her ahead of time that I am coming because she never remembers anyway.
“What are you doing out here, Mom?” I said.
“I’m waiting to go home,” she said.
“What do you mean?” “Who are you waiting for?”
“What do you think I mean? I’m going to Riverside. A limo is picking me up. There’s nothing left for me to do here.”
This is where my guilt kicks in. At that moment she looked sad and vulnerable. I know she misses her home in Riverside, but we sold her house and all her belongings are gone or in storage. We haven’t told her because it would devastate her. We want her to think everything is as she left it and she always has the hope of returning.
“Well, it looks like they celebrated your birthday today,” I said pointing to the balloon, trying to bring a more positive tone to the moment.
“Oh, I guess they did give me that. I forgot,” she answered.
“Have you eaten lunch yet? Why don’t I take you inside and we can eat lunch.”
“ No, I’m not hungry. I want to sit out here for awhile.”
After I tried unsuccessfully to convince her to come in, I finally gave up and told her I would return in a few minutes, and entered the lobby. I went to the desk to sign in and greeted Carla, the aide who is usually at the reception desk.
“She didn’t want to come in,” I told her as I shrugged my shoulders.
“ I’ve tried to get her to come in too, but she said she was waiting for her father to pick her up, then she changed it and said her husband was coming,” Carla said.
“Now she is waiting for a limo. I’m going to her room and be right back.” I had to set down her mail and the flowers, and I thought if I gave her a few minutes she would be ready to come in.
When I returned to the lobby Mom was no longer outside. Carla pointed to the dining room. It wasn’t hard to find her; she was at her usual table near the front, sitting with her friends Sylvia and Ann. I sat down in the remaining seat.
“So you decided to eat lunch anyway,” I said to her, after I said hello to everyone.
“No, I,’m not going to eat. They just brought me in here. I’m having cranberry juice.”
I am grateful to the aides. Since Mom has been in the wheelchair, they make sure she comes into the dining room every day, I guess whether she is hungry or not, to give her a chance to be out with the other residents.
Soon Sylvia left and Mom and I were talking with Ann, when Erika, my daughter, walked in with the two grandchildren. Two young children entering the dining room full of eighty and ninety-year-olds was like a jolt of electricity. Jayden, the six-year-old, ran up to my mother and gave her a big hug and a present. My mother’s eyes lit up. This was the just dose of reality that “grandma” needed and a perfect birthday gift.