Itís your birthday. Not only that, but is a real milestone. You are only sixty-five onceÖ Itís even more special, because it looks like this could be your ultimate birthday. You wonít celebrate this one, because of the Alzheimerís, but weíll all be thinking of you. I wish we could be throwing you the huge party you deserve, but you donít need that to feel loved.
I remember your 60th birthday party, and how all your friends around town came out to celebrate. All sorts of people, many of whom Iíd never met. Thatís a reflection of the person youíve been: In all your homes, whether in Scotland, Canada, England and South Africa, youíve had large circles of friends. Youíve impacted many, many people, and shared some wonderful times. They all know you as a woman with a great sense of compassion and humour. A cultured person with a massive intelligence, but the kind of intelligence that can be translated practically into helping others. You didnít become a PHD in some esoteric subject, although you could have pretty much chosen any field.
You have taken on huge challenges for yourself, and succeeded. You have remained curious and adventurous and willing to learn. That is a great gift to me. Your faith in recent years has stirred me, and brought out a tender part of your personality.
I guess that all three of us, your sons, have felt like we were your favourites. You managed to take an interest in all of us, and make all of us feel special. Having three sons is enough of a challenge, but John, Mark and I have pushed that challenge to the limits. But you never stopped supporting us. I could have told you that I wanted to be a professional human cannon ball, and you would have paid for my studies, and eagerly scanned the press for news of my career. You rigorously defended us throughout our lives as we were growing up, and were not afraid of confrontation.
Itís amazing, really. You came from a very conservative Scottish family, with strict parents, yet you were naturally able to adapt to a more modern culture of personal involvement. You didnít have to read pop culture books about parenthood, you just poured your love into your children.
I know that you went through some baptisms of fire. I know that you wept oceans of tears of frustration, anger and hurt over us. I am both ashamed and deeply touched. Weíve worked through a lot of that hurt, and I am privileged to have spent time as an adult with you, getting to know you as a personality. Iím glad that we had that opportunity. Iím glad that you loved my wife, and treated her like a daughter, not just in words, but with genuine inclusion in your family.
You jumped at the role of grandmother. Has any grandchild been more loved than James? I know that if you hadnít been undermined by this disease that Hannah and Jonah would have shared that love, too. They still love to be with you.
You have been a perfect wife for Dad. You have followed him around the globe, uprooting yourself and supporting him in all sorts of ways. You have always maintained an immaculate home, and provided thousands of meals. In a society where divorce is an Ďoptioní, you have stuck by him for forty-two years. Amazing.
It has been heartbreaking to watch, over the past four years, your decline in health. How cruel that your powerful mind should be depleted bit by bit. I think that in the beginning you knew something was wrong, and you tried to keep it at bay for as long as possible, but in the end, it has removed most of you. Iím grateful that you have remained cheerful and affectionate. I still expect you to say something ĎMummishí, with your constant humour. You donít laugh any more. You just manage to remember who I am, but it is difficult having you here physically but not mentally.
I was devastated to see you in hospital, frail and confused after the burns. I wanted to pick you up and make everything ok. That role is just another reversal. You would have sat by my hospital bed, done anything in your power to make everything right. I am accepting that you may not have long to live, but it is hard to grieve while you are still alive. I think about the things we did together, the movies and music you enjoyed, and silly things, like your obsession with Mount Everest. In a perfect world, you would have lived to go hiking in those Nepalese foothills, able to gaze on that magnificent creation in reality.
You loved books. Thanks for that, Mum. Your love for reading has absolutely transformed my life. How my world-view has been altered by reading is all due to you. You recognized that literature is a gateway to other places, physically and mentally. You have recommended some life-changing books to me, and willingly read some of my more Ďout-thereí favourites.
You taught me to sew. You didnít question me when I asked to be shown, but happily let me loose on your sewing machine. You taught me to cook and bake, but those things I have adapted as necessaryÖ!
In fact, you encouraged me in the following crazes, passions, and sometimes ill-fated interests: swimming, trumpet, clarinet, piano, rats, fish, mice, hamsters, cats, a dog, poetry, drawing, church, girlfriends, marriage, children, writing, studying, running, the art of cappuccino drinking, working with clay, wire jewellery making, collecting stickers, yo-yos and whatever else, in fact, there is a lifetime of interests, too many to recollect. Not once did you try to discourage me.
Ok, so we had disagreements about fashion, hair and substance abuse, but in retrospect, you were right about many of those things, and I respect that you were there to protect me. Even when I was getting into trouble with the police, you would have supported me, if I had involved you. I think that it is the high moral standard that you and Dad gave me that brought me through those times. Thank you.
Only sixty-five years? Seems like such a short time. I donít know what to wish for: Do I say I want you to live another ten years? I donít think you would want that. Now that you are bed-ridden and mentally disengaged, I guess you would want to leave this life, if you had a choice. I can see your body failing, which is very tough to watch. Maybe the best thing to hope for is that you are comfortable, and that you know lots of love during your last time here on earth. You may not be able to reciprocate, but I know you love to be loved.
I couldnít have wished for a better mother, Mum, and I hope you hear me whispering that I love you in your ear, and that a brief moment of clarity will allow you to know that that is the truth.