The minute I turned eight years old I told people I was eight and a half: it sounded so much older, and everyone knows that anyone who was eight wanted more than anything to appear older. Older was more important. Older meant more freedom. Older was smarter.
Time went on and we all age. People shift their desires. They all want to be younger. Younger is more desirable. Younger is cool. Younger is beautiful. Fortunes are made by companies promising to provide a younger “visual effect.”
But not this year. This year I can’t wait to be older. All I wish for is to get beyond this birthday. I will feel so much better, so much safer when I do.
When my mother was exactly the age that I am right now, she suffered a terrible stroke. This cursed stroke robbed her of the ability to ever speak or walk again.
This was Mom and Dad in 1937.
And nobody knew how much she understood. Did she comprehend anything we said to her? What could that damaged brain still process?
She could sing the words to old songs, astonishing everyone. Her favorite was “Oh, Susanna.” The nurses and aides loved visiting with her, loved singing the song and hearing her join in.
But could she play her favorite game, “Checkers?” If she could follow the rules of a game it would indicate that her brain could still process and follow commands. I decided to try. I remember fondly how patient Mom was with me when I was a child and she taught me to play. We always had a special place in our hearts for checkers.
I hesitantly set up the checkers board, afraid to know what I would find out. Soon I would have the answer from the way she responded to the game.
Mom saw that board and broke into the broadest grin I’d seen since she became ill. She was anxious to play; there was no doubt. With great glee she took hold of a red checker and began the game. She was childlike in her excitement. I thought everything was going well at the beginning, as she moved the red checker to its next position. But she didn’t stop there. She didn’t even stop for me to have a turn to move my checker. She moved her “men” indiscriminately forward and backwards, without concern, jumping my men at every self-made opportunity.
What a forlorn image I presented to the world after that game. Mom had no idea how to play the game she once knew so well. She was unable to comprehend the rules of checkers.
I called her Clergyman to tell him about this tragic event, and he asked me,
“Does she understand what happened to her?”
“Yes, I think she does.”
“That’s too bad,” was his uncensored reaction.
His response surprised me. I always thought clergymen were supposed to comfort their congregants and find something soothing to say. His reaction showed his true feelings: he had nothing hopeful to say and didn’t want to pretend that there was a chance for improvement when he knew that my mother’s situation was desperate. There was no hope left.
When my mother was exactly my age I thought of her in a way that I don’t feel now. It’s not that I feel young: I understand that I am not young. But I feel vital, energetic and interested in so much in our world. I still enjoy exploring and learning, just as she did when she was my age. She drove everywhere. She went into the city, saw shows, and visited museums. She travelled a great deal, spending winters in Spain. She had dozens of friends. And she exercised at the gym: swam laps and walked regularly.
Yet she had that devastating stroke. After that, the life she knew could no longer exist.
Someone had to help her with every human need. This once freedom loving, independent
woman was now pathetically dependent on others to care for her.
And so, although I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, I will unquestionably feel safer when this birthday is behind me. This is the birthday that marked the end of my mother’s freedom, and her life as she chose to live it.
The thought of having life pulled out from under you by an unknown, powerful force is the most terrifying thought I can ever imagine.
Comments on: "DEMON BIRTHDAY" (43)
Oh, Ronnie, such a touching story. Your parents were so good looking and it is sad when we think of them in their final years. My Dad died when he was only 52 and I miss him every day. I feel so fortunate to have had such loving parents and truly believe I will see them again some day. I have lived longer than anyone in my family and hope to hang around a bit longer- God willing.
Thank you, Helen. I also hope you hang around a long, long time.
Oh Ronnie What a touching story you had two very good looking parents the pre-emptive care now available helps to mitigate your fear. during the nigh I was weighing the absurd amount of medicine I HAVE TO TAKE it began me wondering if there is anything can eliminate Ifeellike a time bomb, scared and yet nothing one can do to prevent the inevitable table best I can come up with LIVE FULLY WHILE YOU CAN I NEVER anticipated being so reduced, i still don’t have the loss o any facilities but, the sizezabe weekly pillbox, so easily confusable, yet it is one little preventative
I do so miss you and all the jocular conversation, I plan togo to the Luncheon Once Renee is enable to return to driving following total shoulder replacement perhaps we both can return to real life. my HU will fee extra tight to indicate how much I truly miss You Lovingly Lynn
Jack Or Lynn email@example.com
I so hope you get well enough to live life as you used to, go where you wish to go, see people you’d like to see, and live fully in whatever way you wish.
I read this story with such interest… I know how you feel about your birthday, my father died at fifty four from an illness that is treatable now, but I also remember waiting for 54 with trepidation… I’m now almost eighty, so livng proof that we don’t necessarily repeat our parent’s patterns… After my months in a geriatric and stroke victim’s hospital, when I shattered my leg nearly two years ago, I saw so many of the situations you and your other commenters describe. And what struck me was how most people had those gleams of happiness you describe with your mother… I felt when I left that the human spirit is a strange unmeasurable miraculous thing, that few ever understand… but that when life seems limited to a tiny compass, that there are still things to enjoy and savour… if only the joy of another’s smile or kind greeting…
Valerie, what a beautiful response. I agree that the human spirit is a strong unmeasurable thing that few understand. But it is beautiful, no matter what difficulties we are facing.
I can only imagine how awful it must have been for you to lose your mother’s personality while still having her presence, but I understand your feelings about the Fateful Year. My mom died of cancer at 47, and some small part of me never really believed that I would live longer than that. When I did pass my 47th year, it was an odd bittersweet feeling to know that I’m now older than my mother ever was. Wishing you many more sweet years of good health. 🙂
One thing that disturbs me about old age is the assumption that I am likely to pop off at any moment – in fact I’m almost certain I caught my sons making bets. I recall a friend whose husband was imprisoned by a stroke and the frustration she felt on his behalf, and I often wondered if he shared that frustration. Yes, he was prevented from communication beyond certain words, but did he accept it more readily than she? Caring for someone in illness is by its very nature frustrating – at times infuriating – but it can also be an unexpectedly different, quite soothing experience, I think. Given the inevitability of age I think it is meet that everything has its time, and acceptance of change is a valuable part of the journey.
We think of this issue constantly and wonder how to handle it. Should we move into a retirement community that offers “Step Up Care” as needed? Stay put in our home and let the chips fall as they may? Perhaps this question would be a good topic for a new post…
Definitely understand your feeling. Mom went a different route with Alzheimer’s but I lost her just the same. She never spoke for the last four years of her life. We never knew what she understood or whether she even knew us. Life takes some dreadful turns, but teaches us a lesson of patience and understanding along the way.
I believe that your love came through, and although she may not have been able to make herself understood, the warmth and depth of your feelings were known to her.
Thank you for sharing this, what a sad experience which obviously so many people identify with. I lost my mum when she was 47 years old. I turned 47 last birthday and now feel so thankful I have my health, and my life. I’m wishing you much future happiness.
Thank you, Jill. I don’t thing any of us understand how many others have suffered the same sadnesses as we have. But I understand from your and many other comments, that I was not alone with these feelings. How tragic, to have lost your mother when she was so young. I hope nothing so sad ever touches your life again.
I really feel for you and have some understanding only because my husband expressed the very same emotions. His father had a stroke and died at aged 57. When I met my husband in his 20’s he was already “anticipating” that birthday. I’m so sorry for what you experienced int he loss of your mother. You’ve described a very difficult time and a profound loss.
Thank you or your understanding, Debra. As I read the responses to this post I realize that so many of us have had similar situations, that nobody is alone, and that we all need understanding about what we’re experiencing.
I think the way blogging has allowed us to share in one another’s lives, reminding us that we are all interconnected after all, is just amazing. I never get tired of thinking about that. Hugs to you at a sensitive time.
I really feel as if I have a whole new group of friends, even though I will never meet any of them. I call them my “pretend friends!”
Well said. My father started having small strokes at about age 68, I watch as each one stole a part of him away.
How sad: how terrible. Does your Dad feel the changes?
At first he did, but then after awhile he stopped noticing. By the time he died, he couldn’t communicate much at all.
Poor man; he saw his life sort of trickle away from him…At least he knew he was surrounded by people who loved him.
Today just happens to be our youngest’s, a son, age 48, birthday. I also remember those half years, now 75 is just around the corner. My wife and I shared care for my grandmother, commuting between CT and NJ, circa 1981 for a spell. She also was a stroke victim at age 87. Every year here is a bonus for us, as are those half years and each day.
Whenever You Find Yourself Doubting How Far You Can Go, Just Remember How Far You Have Come. Remember Everything You Have Faced, All The Battles You Have Won, And All The Fears You Have Overcome. ( Just one of many quotes I’ve kept along the way.) Happy March 11, 2018 Ronnie
Right, Lee.When I look back at my life, the phases I went through and the crises I’ve conquered, and the person I am now, I feel as if I have lived at least four lives.
Hi again, Ronnie. I already commented and really appreciated your heartfelt response (above). Your story connects with me in another way. Back in the early part of this new millennium my brother, who was 59 at the time, started complaining about not remembering figures and numbers like he used to. We kidded him about “senior moments”, but otherwise didn’t pay much attention. One day after a couple of years of this, we sat down to play dominoes. He was having a hard time matching the numbers (i.e., six goes with six). It turned out, he couldn’t count the number of dots on his domino. This was a man who was a linguist and could do the NY Times crossword with little effort. Not long after that, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and died a few years later. The story of your mother not remembering the moves in checkers struck home to me. Again, I really identify with the emotions you are having now. They are quite normal and will fade as this milestone passes.
Sorry if I have dwelled on this too much. After today, let’s get back to our silly, sarcastic selves, shall we? (No charge for the alliteration)
I have one more word to add to your list of alliterations: sad.
Well said and frightening to all of us. At my next birthday age my Mom lost her identity to Alzheimer’s. That too will be a “demon day” for me.
Please scroll down three responses and read what Eddie Two Hawks said. I believe that explanation, and I hope you will as well. It will allow you to celebrate your birthday without fear. No demons, Dor!
Powerful post. Happy Birthday regardless– I’m sure you’ll sail through for more decades around the sun. My mother’s grandmother died on her 48th birthday of a heart attack and my mother also had a fear of that birthday. She’s now 87 so these fears are merely superstitions we hope.
Thank you, Lisa. Superstitions have a strong, powerful hold even on those who understand there is no significant, scientific reason to believe in them.
This is a very powerful piece of writing and I send my best wishes to you for this entire year. I’m sure it will be one filled with mixed feelings.
Although my own parents passed away deep into their 80s, I’ve had many friends with experiences similar to yours. The common dread is that terrible milestone year.
We are all frequently reminded that life can change on a dime. It’s often inexplicable and outright cruel. As an antidote for that, I hope each of your days in the year ahead is filled with laughter and love 💕
A neurologist explained to me once, the human brain knows ‘no time’. It does not keep track of time like we imagine it does. In other words, what you imagine could to you at a certain age because it happened to your dear mother, is not valid.
Thank you for that explanation, Eddie. I know that I am not the only one who feels uneasy when they reach the age of a departed loved one.
You’re welcome Ronnie
I feel safer knowing you’re out there, Ronnie.
Oh Ann, what a sweet thing to say. So fear not; I will protect you!
Such a heartbreaking story. Totally understand your feelings about this birthday. My father died at age 44. His father died at age 44. Can you imagine what a wreck I was for the entire year after my 44th birthday?
I was in college when he died. After a hurried service so I could get back to school, the pace of my life picked up again quickly. It was as if there was just a speed bump in the road. 47 years later when my mother died, I went to a hospice grief group. Guess who I ended up grieving and talking about. That’s right, my dad. It just lays there until you confront it.
How terribly sad! I cannot fathom losing a father when he was only 44. He must have married and become a dad at a young age if you were already in college at the time of losing him. Wasn’t it a lucky thing that he became a dad early so at least you had him during the difficult high school years? Your dad must have been an important part of your life for you to grieve for him so long. He had to have been an amazingly wonderful man. It is never the right time and it’s always too soon to lose a father. I’m so sorry.
Your anticipation of the age is something most of us share. My Dad died aged 70. That was always a milestone for me. Her Clergyman was worthy of respect
I am learning that many of us fear reaching the age that our parent was at their time of death. It’s one of the traumas we live with.
A sad and beautiful story, your Mum might not have recognised the rules of Checkers, but you must appreciate Her recognition of the Checker board, you gave her reason to grin and smile for a fleeting moment.
That was such a comforting comment, Ian. You managed to find a bright side of the situation that never occurred to me, and for this I thank you.
I hope this birthday comes and goes, with great relief and celebration. Your mother’s experience sounds so difficult – painful to watch and feel so powerless…
That’s the worst part: feeling so helpless. But that feeling is also a learning experience. There comes a time that we all have to recognize that we are not as powerful as we thought we were.