Today is my mother's 82nd birthday.
Were you to ask her, she likely would recall that her birthday falls on this day, although I highly suspect that she would not recall that today is that day, just as she can still tell you the town and county she lives in, but only because she has lived there almost all of her life.
Were it any other year than the last two, we would call at some point in the evening - and, per usual, probably miss them as they would be out with my sister and her family celebrating. We would likely leave a message on the phone to get a call back later and pass the phone around the house, so that she and TB the Elder could catch up with everyone. The next time we would see them, we would likely go out to dinner and bring a card and a small gift.
There is nowhere to call now as the phone is disconnected and even were I to call the place they are now living, she likely would not recognize my voice, nor have need of anything we might bring.
I have always credited my mother with a great deal of how I have ended up in life. She was a reader, and so reading was encouraged and I became a reader. She was inevitably kind, and so she taught me kindness. She was almost always non-confrontational (almost always), and so I learned - painfully at times - that confrontation does not solve everything the way the world thinks it does and that it costs nothing to listen. She was a lover of God in a quiet, unassuming, unpretentious way and so I became one as well - even when at times I went way off on my own, she never said a word but patiently waited for God to bring me back.
If I really think about it - and I hate to do so - the last conversation I had with mother as my mother was probably three years ago. By the time that I was able to go back on a more frequent basis, the person I was visiting with - pleasant, quiet, often patiently sitting and waiting for my father to tell her what they were doing or where they were going next - was in meaningful ways a faint echo of who she was.
I find myself conflicted, torn between a great sadness and something which for which the word "frustration" only mildly describes the un-muttered rage within my soul at the outcome. This is not the way things were supposed to work. This, it feels like, is a colossal waste of a good person.
But right after that conflict comes up, an immediate second thought follows on, the one that says "She cannot, but you still can". She cannot be the person that she was, with all of her good qualities simply because in real ways, she is not that person now. She is still herself, but those things are now beyond here.
They are not, however, beyond me. And I cannot be so blind or foolish to believe that in a world that is as much filled as it ever was with discord, ill will, misunderstanding, and sometimes outright evil that practicing learning, kindness, listening, and loving God by being are things which are not needed now or more so as they have always been.
Perhaps that, then, becomes the birthday present I can give to someone that has no need for anything else.
Happy 82nd Birthday, Mom.