The Epistle of Q — Chapter Eighty-Seven

What makes a birthday special?

Many people have birthdays. In fact, most people have at least one each year. Some people consider certain years to be extra special – 13, 16, 21 (or maybe 19 or 18, depending on the province), 30, 35, 40 50 65, and often 80 (if one gets that far). I’m not sure about the significance of any particular year other than I’m always happy to reach it. Moreover, I tend to shy away from making a big deal of my own birthday, but that’s more due to my introversion.

I must admit I was excited to reach #16 a few years back as that meant I could apply to get a driver’s licence. And 35 was special because by that point I felt I had done pretty well everything in my life except be an NHL goalie or a CFL player of any kind. I’d even been the lead singer in a rock ‘n roll band that broke up before its first gig (probably saved a great many eardrums with that move). The sense of 35 being special was my contention that because I had accomplished more than most, I could then go forward celebrating each year as a bonus – which I have. So it’s #16 and #35 that have been the important milestones for me; everything else is simply gravy.

Why then do I even mention this topic now, since my next birthday is almost 11 months away and my good friends who are already in their 75th year will reach the milestone long before I do. Well, there’s a fairly simple answer: today I was at a very special birthday, the number of which kind of defies complete understanding. Today’s birthday bash was held in the Long Term Care (LTC) facility at the Cold Lake Regional Hospital and it started at breakfast time.

In some senses the event started on Sunday with several people coming so as not to make the crowds too large today. Others came yesterday, for the same reason. I arrived yesterday afternoon as I had a special card to deliver along with a gift of Callibout chocolates.. I also used the time for a delightful visit with the birthday lady before she went to dinner.

This lady is my mother. Today she turns 102. That’s not a typo. She has been on the planet for a century plus two years. She graduated from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto in 1941, which is over 77 years ago, thus making her the oldest/longest living grad from that famous program. She lost her husband (to whom she had been married 53 years) about 25 years ago. She has raised four kids, the youngest of whom is 66. She has a multitude of grandkids and great-grandkids. But most of all – she still has her mind, and it truly is a mind of her own. She still has her emotions too as was evidenced by a few tears when all of the residents of LTC, including some who are quite restricted in their capacities, broke into a hearty version of Happy Birthday at the conclusion of breakfast.

After breakfast, she got up from the table (under her own power), grabbed her walker and moved from the dining room into the common room. There another resident had obtained a baker’s dozen roses – twelve red and one special white one for friendship. This gentleman who has long known my sister (who worked in health care in the northeast region of Alberta for perhaps forty years) also arranged a birthday cake with three candles spelling out 102. These were lit and in one puff, Mother blew them out and then posed for about a hundred pictures. She then thanked everyone, got up from the chair she had sat in while the common room ceremony occurred, again grabbed her walker. Then she directed me to pick up the flowers and cards and follow her to her room.

On our way there all the staff formed a kind of honour guard and congratulated her on the accomplishment. Upon arriving at her room, she directed me where to put the flowers and cards, sat in her favourite rocker, and for over half-an-hour engaged me in a conversation about all sorts of things including the absurdity of her continuing to live (when she has no friends of her era left, and her body is failing) and others, much younger are dying of cancer or becoming dementious – she reminded me that I must continue to pray for God to send the angels to take her home. She isn’t bitter; she is simply tired.

But, ask her what is next on her agenda and still says she wants to see what the view from her current room (she moved into it about 3 months after coming into LTC) looks like in the spring. She wondered how long it might take for the snow to melt. And she is not upset with being in LTC. She commends the staff at every turn, even claiming that they are feeding her so well that she is going to get fat. That assessment leads to a subsequent analysis that the province is likely going to change the fee structure for LTC – she thinks the government is soon going to charge residents by weight and so she will have to pay more. I told her that I would gladly pay for any overages that result from such a policy change…

She also lectured me on driving safe – that I was to be careful if I really want to get to my next birthday. Then she asked me to read her the cards she received in the Common Room. We then discussed the order of family visits that day (I didn’t leave until her grand-daughter Heather arrived). She also was thankful that I had invited Heather along with her son Skyler to breakfast at the hotel – and she was looking forward to hearing Skyler’s version of the event. We also discussed other items related to weather and the LTC facility and its staff. After about ½ an hour, I indicated that I would need to get on the road in order to get back for meetings. Throughout that time she seldom repeated herself and was most buoyant. As I got to the door of her room and Heather appeared she said good-bye and immediately swung her attention to her grand-daughter.

I thought to myself – this woman is amazing. And she left me with a couple of insights: one is her undying faith (even when God does not immediately answer her prayers for her wings!!) And the other is her thankfulness for her mind. She believes that longevity is only beneficial if one still has their mind so that they can continue to engage in conversations. By prayer she reflects; by conversation, her mind connects. Mom is a blessing to this world, especially the world of LTC at the Regional Hospital in Cold Lake and to the world of our clan. I have no idea when she will finally go home; she doesn’t either. But until then, we all continue to benefit from her humour, her interest in her extensive family, her mind and most of all her faith.

102 is a very unique number when it comes to age…and the most unique thing in our family’s case is that it can be a most interesting living age… thanks Mother, and thank you God…