Life: It's all about love
On March 8th, I celebrated my Mother’s birthday, even though she passed away three years ago at the age of 91. Her birthday had become an important part of my life.
Some 20 years earlier, during a visit to Seattle from her home in Florida, my mother, a recent widow, took me aside and told me that she was disappointed in me for not properly acknowledging her birthday. At first I was surprised, but I thought about it, and I realized that she was right. Some of my indifference to her birthday was rooted in my early life experience, where I felt neglected by my mother. But, I reflected, now as an adult, that was no excuse. She was right. That day, I went out and bought her a big birthday cake and made a promise that I would spend every birthday with her for the rest of her life.
She was skeptical since my follow through with her hadn’t always been so stellar. But I did stick to my word. Every year, I flew to Florida in early March and celebrated her birthday with her. Those birthday trips were special and often included several events. She had a group of women friends called the “lunch bunch” who celebrated each other’s birthdays every month. Then we would go out to a restaurant with several friends for a special meal. There were milestone birthday parties too—70, 80 and 90 where all of our family gathered.
One year she developed a serious urinary tract infection and we spent her birthday at the Emergency Room. I stayed several days longer that year to take care of her. That was probably our worst birthday celebration.
I looked forward to those visits. Some years I might bring one of my daughters with me, but she made it clear that her birthday would be our special time together. We had long forgotten that day when she expressed her disappointment in me.
Her last birthday party was three years ago, a week before she passed away. My wife and I were helping to take care of her. She was in hospice, and very weak. But she wanted a birthday celebration. We brought in food, balloons, decorations, and party hats. She asked me to put away her medical supplies and her oxygen. Her friends came to her apartment, and her best friend, Shirley, held her hand. These elder adults could not bear to acknowledge that my mother was at the end of her life. She made a goodbye speech to them—she said, “Life is all about love—I love each and every one of you”.
When I reflect on all of those visits to Florida, the celebrations, the opportunity to spend time alone with my Mom, to come and to express my love in deed rather than just in words, I realize that I was the fortunate one. It all sprang from my mother sharing a deeply held feeling with me and my honest reflection about myself and my shortcomings. I wanted to make amends to her for my indifference, and I did.
It is through deeds of loving kindness that we discover who we can be. It is when we find a way to express our deepest feelings—like my mother sharing her disappointment with me and my desire to be there for my mother, even though she hadn’t always been there for me, that we celebrate our connection with each other and find healing.