Saturday, November 24, 2012

Minus 12 and Holding

"Minus 12." It is not the correct answer but it brings a big smile to my face.

It takes 2 people to sponge bathe my mom in her bed. I enter the room hesitantly, notwithstanding Mary's indication that I am welcome. My mom is fully covered in towels and a robe, but she is not aware of her state of dress, and I worry what may transpire in my presence. Yet she seems quiet and restful, not at all combative like she has been in this circumstance in the past.

My Aunt Shirley was turning 90 that day, almost 5 years younger than my mom. "Do you know it is Aunt Shirley's birthday?"

"Shirley Solan"? It is a good sign that she remembers her sister's name.

My mom's feet and ankles are feeling the warm massage. Maybe the gentle touch on the skin helps focus her thoughts.

"Do you know how old you are?" For many years my mom decided that she was and would remain 39. In fact, she proudly wore a tee shirt on each January 8 through much of the past several decades which proclaimed she was "39 and holding". While I was growing up she advised that she was 4 years younger than my dad. It was only after he passed away and I thereafter dealt with various records of my mom that I discovered she was actually 2 months his senior. So, numbers, or at least the hiding of this particular number, always held a significance for her.

The question I posed was not intended to solicit a proper response. It has been a long time since she retained the grasp of these fundamental facts. Just having her search is now a victory in itself. Several seconds pass without reply. "Minus 12.''

Having been witness to and participant in the past half dozen years of her life has been a horrible and enlightening experience. I have learned much about myself and about what many of us must do to cope with life's fragile equilibrium. What brought me to tears in past years now is understood, if not accepted. And what was once considered tragic is now something different, not better, just different. So when my mom grasps for answers that escape her, but comes up with a unique and intriguing alternative, I no longer cringe. I find the possibility of humor, and make believe that my mom is telling the big fish story. She is her old incorrigible self, holding on now not to an age but to a concept that has a metaphysical meaning.

My mom always said that you are only as old as you tell yourself, and that age is just a number. And minus 12 sounds like a really good number to me. Maybe on her 95th birthday she will not be wearing that old shirt but rather a new one. Here's to my mom, "minus 12 and holding."

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