Monday, November 21, 2011

"In the Living Years"

Mother and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at a country club near their home. Gorgeous peace roses in vibrant shades of a ripe sunset blossomed on tables. Scrapbooks that Mother had designed, their pages mapping the highlights of their lives together, set for all to peruse. Waiters in formal attire brought fine food to every table, and when we had all eaten, Mother went from table to table, introducing guests to each other and telling everyone what each guest had meant to her and Dad.

Ten more years passed, their 60th was on the horizon, and Dad had received a diagnosis: inoperable cancer. I offered to take charge of an anniversary reception in their home. Mother created a guest list, and I designed an invitation, the menu, and scheduled a photographer. My sister, her fella, and her kids refreshed the table while my husband and I washed dishes in the kitchen.

Almost everyone from far and near was present. Almost everyone was a person who would later attend Dad’s funeral, but this time, each guest was able to speak to him, pose for pictures with him, and through hugs, kisses and words, let him know how much he meant to them. Not only did Mother and Dad receive congratulations for their long-lived marriage, they also received the warmth of family and friendship in a time of letting go.

Dad lived one more year, a little past his 61st anniversary, but by the time it arrived on May 10, he was beyond sitting up, toasting, or remembering for more than a minute that he had wed his lovely bride so many years ago. I was there once again to abide with Mother, to let her know that someone remembered.

Now she does not remember her own birthday or the birthdays of her children and grandchildren. Her own wedding anniversary, Dad’s death, and Dad’s birthday pass without remark unless someone or something reminds her. On days such as Christmas or Memorial Day, she honors Dad and those who passed before him by placing flowers on graves. She seems to remember them when she does.

This last year, I was out of state when she wanted to go to her own mother’s gravesite, but my sister said she’d take care of it without Mother. My sister said she didn’t have the time to drive to Mother’s home and return to a place near her own where Grandmother’s gravesite is. Mother would just have to abide.

I would have made time because I have found that giving and being present in the living years is what I can live with. Shared joy is more satisfying so I recommend celebrating while the living are living instead of after they are gone. That 60th anniversary celebration still sustains me, and photos from it still enchant Mother.