All my life, Mom made my birthday special. One year, she made the most decadent gooey chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted. I walked into the house after a long basketball practice, plopped into my chair at the kitchen table and eagerly sliced a piece of that wonderful cake. It tasted like love.
During my first year of college, I lived far away on my birthday. But Mom somehow managed to send a message to the dorm mother who arranged for a chocolate chip creation that I shared with all the girls on my hall.
Mom never forgot birthdays for any of us. She schemed and planned for weeks in order to make the best cake, find the perfect present and make the day special. Then she lustily sang the Happy Birthday song, to ensure that each of her children knew what a special day it was for her, too.
This year, my birthday seemed bittersweet. For two hours, I signed books at my hometown Hastings. It was a great time of connecting with friends and family, talking about Reverend G and sipping an iced chai. Afterwards, my siblings and I feasted at the local Western Sizzlin’ where I treated myself to a dish of blackberry cobbler a la mode.
Then I drove to the nursing home to spend the rest of the evening with Mom. We watched television together as she asked me over and over about my son’s major in college. I didn’t tell her about the book signing, because she would have regretted that she couldn’t come.
Every five minutes, she pleaded, “When can I go home? Why can’t I go home? I want to go home.”
No birthday card. No mention of the day. No cake.
I felt guilty for my self-pity, knowing that for me it was only a birthday. For Mom, it’s the rest of her life in a facility and a gradual eating away of her brain by that brutal Alzheimer’s.
But still, I missed the fact that for the first time in my life, October 12 came and went without a birthday acknowledgement from Mom. And there will never be another birthday card from her or a decadent chocolate cake or a colorful balloon. Those days are over.
As I drove back to Kansas, a song on the radio reminded me to hang on to the only One who never changes, the Christ who saved me and now upholds all of us in this Alzheimer’s journey with Mom.
“When my world is shaking, heaven stands. When my heart is breaking, I never leave your hands.”