My Scrambled Nest

An Almost-Empty Nest Journey of "Letting Go" With Laughter and Love, By Cathy Free

By the time most of you read this, my husband, Russell, will be undergoing double bypass heart surgery today. We are both surprisingly calm, as are our children, Rory and Lily. Nobody in our family has had surgery before (unless you count childbirth without an epidural), so this is a first for all of us. We figure that since we’re starting with a BIGGIE, anything that pops up in the future (tonsillitis, anyone?) ought to be a cakewalk. 

My husband’s surgery is happening at the same hospital where my daughter made her entrance into the world 18 years ago, so there are many happy vibes there. And across the street is where we had a Greek breakfast at Nick’s Cafe after my obstetrician three floors up stripped my membrane to finally put me into labor with my son more than two decades ago. When Russell and I sat down and heard “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash playing on the radio in the cafe, we both burst into joyful tears. We’ve called it “Rory’s Song” ever since.

 As I look out at the snow falling outside my home office window on a fresh Sunday morning, it’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, Russell was running several miles on the treadmill and shoveling two feet of heavy snow off our sidewalks and driveway. It’s a miracle, really, that he went eight months without a heart attack after first noticing a sore throat that flared up after exercising. It was his only symptom. 

 My husband has always been a mellow, kindhearted and poetic guy — kind of like John Lennon, for those of you who tell me that he resembles the beloved Beatle. At our meeting with the surgeon on Friday, Russell flashed me “the look” when I pulled out my notebook and asked the surgeon a long list of questions, including what kind of music he liked to listen to during heart surgery. (Some people become quiet during times of stress, while others might cry or panic. But I’ve always put on my reporter’s hat to get me through.) 

 Dr. Jim Stringham, an affable man in his early 60s with white hair and a steady handshake (good qualities for heart surgeons and airline pilots, I’ve always thought), smiled and told me that he and his team like to listen to just about anything: classical, country, jazz, bluegrass, you name it.

 “What about Neil Young?” I asked. “Russell loves Neil Young. Can you put some of his classics on?”

As if I needed to ask.

You’ve got it,” said Dr. Stringham. “Neil Young it is.”

 So imagine this: After Russell is wheeled into the operating room this morning and introduced to the team of medical experts that will extend his life, he will close his eyes and drift off to Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” 

 I can’t think of a better new beginning for the next 20 years of his remarkable life. ♥️

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It must be my daughter’s year for strings. Not shoelace strings or apron strings or puppet strings, but B strings and G strings — the kind attached to a musical instrument.

First, when Lily turned 18 on New Year’s Eve, her boyfriend gifted her with a beautiful acoustic guitar. Already, she’s playing it like a young Judy Collins, accompanying some of her favorite bands on YouTube, singing and strumming like a pro. When I asked her if she wanted lessons, my daughter quickly said no.

“It’s like playing the cello, only without the bow and you hold it differently,” she said. “No lessons for me. I’ll teach myself.”

Then about a week after Lily’s birthday, the doorbell rang one night and her second stringed surprise arrived. Her friend, Jessica, stepped inside the doorway and held out a mint-condition cello.

“Happy late birthday — my mom and I want you to have this,” she told Lily. “We bought it when I was in the sixth grade and I only played it for one year. Since then, it’s just been sitting in our basement instead of being played and appreciated. It deserves someone like you.”

Lily and I stood for a moment in stunned silence. I’d given my son a double bass as a high school graduation gift, and now I was saving up to buy Lily a cello this spring to replace the one we’d been renting from her high school. But the instrument Jessica was offering wasn’t a factory-built, “standard issue” cello for students. It was the real deal, crafted by hand from maple wood and lustrously varnished. It shined under our dining room chandelier like the well-polished fender of a ’56 Chevy.

“Wow! Are you sure?” I asked Jessica. “We’d be happy to pay you something for it. Seriously.”

Jessica vigorously shook her head no. “My mom has heard Lily play and she insists that she have it. She won’t accept payment and that’s that.”

The cello was Lily’s, she said, no strings attached.

Literally.

“Because it sat unused for more than six years, the strings dried out,” said Jessica with a smile. “So you’ll have to buy new ones. Otherwise, it’s perfect.”

Lily and I both gave her a hug and wiped away happy tears. “We’ll always remember this moment,” I told Jessica. “It’s the most wonderful present ever.”

“I can’t wait to play it,” said Lily. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

After Jessica left, Lily wondered what she could do to thank her and her mother for such a generous gift. “How can I possibly repay them?” she asked.

“How about if you bake them something and write a nice ‘thank you’ card?” I suggested.

So that’s what she did. That night, Lily whipped up a batch of blueberry muffins and made two dozen little “thank you” flags with musical notes to stick in each one. The next day, she took them over to Jessica’s house and gave her mother a hug.

At a time of ugliness and uncertainty, how wonderful to see an act of pure selflessness and joy — a reminder that life is still full of kind and gracious people.

It’s said that these things happen in threes. At any moment, I’m half-expecting a harp to show up. 😉♥️🎶

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The unveiling of Melania Trump’s creepy blood-red Christmas trees at The White House this year has me thinking about my old next-door neighbor’s wacky decorating schemes in East Midvale, where I grew up.

Every year, “Mrs. K,” the mother of George, the Greek kid I had a crush on, flocked her Christmas tree a different color to contrast with her pristine white living room, which as far as I knew, hadn’t actually been used since her family moved in.

Whenever Mrs. K would hire me to read to her two daughters (they didn’t appreciate books as much as I did), she’d ask me to take my shoes off, then quickly usher me across a long, clear vinyl rug to the kitchen in the back of the house. My feet were never allowed to touch the wall-to-wall white shag carpet, and I doubted that her kids spent much time running their toes through the snowy drifts either.

Every Christmas, though, you could count on Mrs. K to add a little color to her blinding white-on-white decorating scheme. She’d send her husband to pick up the tree she’d had flocked at the Allied tree lot, then proudly trim it with tinsel, shiny baubles and blinking lights and put it on display in her front picture window. One year, she’d have a purple tree. Another year she’d have pink or blue. As I recall, there was even a bright red tree one year, similar to the trees Melania decided to really, really care about this holiday season.

Of course, I was jealous that George’s family always had a colorful tree.

“Why can’t we do that to OUR tree?” I’d ask my mother. “Why do we always have to get a plain green tree?”

“Because trees are green,” my mother would say. “When’s the last time you saw a blue tree in the wild?”

Finally, when I was 8, my mom relented with a sigh and decided that we could have a flocked tree. But it had to be white, she said,  so that it would look as though it was covered with snow, not pink bubble gum. After my dad strapped the street to the top of his station wagon and brought it home, he and my mom carefully removed the plastic, set it in a corner of our living room and told me and my siblings that we could go to town decorating.

Did we ever. By the end of the night, the tree was dripping from floor to ceiling with silver tinsel, red and green ornaments, sparkling white lights and shiny strands of beads. But there was one problem: we were dripping too, with glittering artificial snow.

We were flocked.

“Go wash off,” said our mom, “and I’ll get out the vacuum.” She kept it handy until after Christmas to suck up the trails of white that we’d leave every day all over the green shag carpet. “THIS,” said my mother, “is why trees are meant to be green.”

We never again had a flocked tree, and ironically, Mrs. K took my mom’s advice. The following year, we laughed when we saw the tree in her front picture window. It had been flocked a brilliant shade of avocado green. : )

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A couple of weeks ago, my 17-year-old daughter surprised me with the announcement that she’d found a new passion: roller disco. Yowza. A 2018 roller disco queen! When she showed me the snazzy new periwinkle skates she’d just bought with some of her summer ice cream shop earnings to prove it, I knew that my mothering skills had finally double-axeled to new heights. Although she’d never admit it, I knew that my kid had ACTUALLY LISTENED to me talk about my days as a weekend roller disco queen and how video games and Instagram couldn’t come close to the fun I had at the roller rink with my friends as a teenager.

From age 12 to 15 in the mid-1970s, everyone always knew where to find me on a Friday or Saturday night. If I was at home with my dad in Midvale, he’d drop me and one or two school friends off at the Murray Roller Rink on State Street in old downtown Murray to skate around an authentic hardwood maple floor. And if I was spending the weekend with my mom, I’d take a quick walk up the railroad tracks with my two brothers from our apartment to the Ritz Classic Skating Rink in South Salt Lake, where for $1.75, we could zip around beneath a giant disco ball for more than four hours, breaking only for cheese pizza and cherry-lime slushies.

After my first year of skating, I became so comfortable on wheels that I could skate backwards blindfolded, “shoot the duck” on one skate and land a single axel with the ease of an alley cat, barely putting a ripple in my long feathered shag. In my baby-blue satin bellbottoms and watermelon-flavored Lip Smackers, I confidently asked boys to skate during “girl’s choice” and tried not to whip them around the floor, roller-derby style, as we skated hand-in-(sweaty)-hand.

As a regular at both rinks, the disc jockeys soon came to know all of my favorite skating requests, from “Pick Up the Pieces” by The Average White Band and “The Hustle” by Van McCoy to “The Loco-Motion” by Grand Funk Railroad and “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry. Probably the most popular song at the time, though, was “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks.

What did a depressing song about death have in common with the vibrant young lives circling around and around a room splashed with shards of silver light? Who knew? But whenever that song came through the loudspeaker during guys’ choice in 1974, my friends and I swooned and sighed and made eye contact with any available boys hanging on the rails (shoulder-length hair, Angel Flight pants and Elsha cologne a plus), silently praying that we’d be asked to take a slow spin.

My daughter tells me that many of these old songs have now made a comeback at the rink in Sandy where she’s secretly been skating on weekends with her boyfriend. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked her. Of course, I already know the answer. She’s afraid I’ll want to come along, and she’s right. With a laugh, she tells me now that she’s mastered a few new moves, I’m welcome to tag along sometime.

“But there’s no way you’re borrowing my skates, Mom. These beauties are mine.” : )

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One year ago today, I saved my mother’s life. Here’s a copy of the story that I wrote about Bright Friday for The Washington Post. : ) 

By Cathy Free

A year ago, several days before Thanksgiving, my mother was sent into hospice care to die. She was weak and declining by the hour. Three doctors told us that a nasty blood condition called sepsis would soon stop her heart.

I had a hunch they were wrong.

The facility near her home in Salt Lake City was short-staffed because it was Thanksgiving weekend. I couldn’t persuade a doctor to come in and see her, and I felt as if my window to help her was closing fast.

So I spun into action: I called a mobile phlebotomist (the people who stick you to take a blood sample) to come over right away to do an independent blood panel. It was the best call I ever made. We found out that my mother wasn’t dying of sepsis at all — instead, she had critically low potassium.

My mom, as it turned out, needed bananas.

While the day after Thanksgiving is traditionally known as Black Friday to most people, my family now calls it something else: Bright Friday. It was the day we saved my mom.

Since last Thanksgiving, I’ve had 365 days with my mother that I didn’t expect to have. Now 77, she was greatly weakened by her ordeal and requires a long-term care center. But her mind is still active, and her sense of humor is as quirky as ever.

In my three-days-a-week visits, we’ve settled into a comfortable routine: After I bring her a homemade peanut butter smoothie (with extra banana), I settle in next to her bed to read the day’s headlines and fill her in on my two kids’ latest dramas. Then we’ll vent about politics while I spritz her with her favorite “Alien” or “Joy” perfume, give her a manicure or rub lavender lotion into her fragile skin.

On sunny days, I’ll wheel her outside to look at the mountains and check on the family of quail that has set up house in the shrubbery ringing the courtyard.

When she was close to dying last fall, I thought often about the last trip I’d taken with her just seven months before. For more than a decade, my mother had invited me to join her during her annual trip to the International UFO Congress in Arizona every February, and I’d always laughed and declined.

Then last year, when I could see that my mother’s step had drastically slowed (she needed a cane to get around), it hit me that our years together might be numbered.

We weren’t always close. When my parents divorced and I was 11, my brother and I, the oldest two, went to live with my father. My mother kept my other brother and sister, the youngest two.

Old wounds had healed with time, and I thought attending the UFO congress together might be fun.

And it was. For three days, we attended seminars about spaceships, crop circles and alien abductions and shopped for E.T.-themed merchandise, including little green alien necklaces, “I Don’t Believe in Humans” T-shirts and “Fifty Shades of Greys” books.

Mostly, though, we laughed and sipped bright green margaritas and just enjoyed being together as a mother and daughter for the first time in years.

Our getaway took on new meaning in late September last year when my mom’s left knee collapsed while she was preparing for a yard sale. She ended up in a rehab center, then the hospital, and my siblings and I were told that sepsis in her knee had moved to her kidneys. She needed immediate dialysis.

The treatment boosted her kidneys’ function, but her outlook was still poor. Three doctors said it was time to move her into hospice and say our goodbyes.

In her hospice room at a care center near the hospital, my brothers, sister and I took shifts in a cushy recliner next to her bed. As she cycled in and out of sleep, I talked to her about her final requests.

“Nothing fancy,” she told me. “Let’s keep it simple.” She wanted sunflowers at her memorial service and lots of family photos. “Champagne,” she said, “would also be nice. And happy music.”

I rested my head on her chest to feel her warmth.

“Mama, I love you. This is hard, but I will try to be brave,” I told her.

“I love you, too,” she replied, taking my hand. “Think of the happy times. Remember your pink canopy bed? I can still see you sleeping there.”

I went home Thanksgiving night, but, unable to sleep, I went outside in my pajamas and looked at the stars, clutching the snowy owl necklace that I’d worn since my mother’s diagnosis. She always loved snowy owls and collected memorabilia as far back as I can remember. I’d bought this one for my mom at an English sorcery shop in 2015 and carried it with me to Stonehenge, where my family had a tour at sunset. When the sun appeared in the middle of the Great Trilithon, I held up the necklace, knowing that my mother would love that I’d performed a small ritual. At that moment, I felt connected to her and smiled, wondering whether the necklace would now have some sort of power.

As I stood in my chilly backyard last year and searched the stars for the Pegasus and Pisces formations the way my mother had taught me, I was overcome with a feeling that the medical experts were wrong. I decided my mother was not dying. I left several messages for the doctor on call at the care center to come and see her, but he didn’t respond.

After I ordered the blood panel on my own, the phlebotomist called later that night. “I’ll fax the results in the morning,” he said, “but I need to let you know that your mom’s potassium is the lowest I’ve ever seen. It’s critical. She could have heart failure.”

My mom’s nurse said she couldn’t give her potassium without a doctor’s approval. So my brother, who was taking a shift in the recliner, rushed to the grocery store for potassium pills, which he crushed up in water for our mother.

Early the next morning, I was there when the fax results came in showing that if my mother ever had sepsis, it had mysteriously vanished. I immediately called an ambulance to take her to a hospital.

In the emergency room, a doctor said my mom never should have been in hospice care. After nearly a month in the hospital, she was sent to a new care center, which was worst than the first. Finally, on the third try, we got it right.

The staff where she is now is attentive and caring and nobody bats an eye if my mother says, “The lunch today looks like cat food.”

It’s not a perfect life (she’ll never walk again), but my mom is happy on most days and thankful to be alive. I can’t stop smiling when I think back on the recent afternoon when a priest came to her room by mistake to deliver last rites.

“Oh, hell no!” my mother exclaimed. “I’m not going anywhere!”

We laughed until she nearly fell out of her bed. On this Bright Friday, I’ll toast her again with her favorite champagne. My mom says she’s up for two glasses. And maybe a banana.

Cathy Free is a Salt Lake City-based journalist and former newspaper columnist. She contributes regularly to Inspired Life and is writing a book about saving her mother’s life.

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As I wrote this long overdue blog post, my daughter was preparing for her high school’s annual Halloween stomp, which is always held on the Saturday AFTER All Hallows’ Eve. This year, my daughter and her boyfriend decided to dress up as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. You can probably guess which costume my kid wore this past weekend. With her long blond hair and mischievous sense of adventure, she was born to play Alice.

For more than two weeks, my daughter searched high and low for an Alice costume that didn’t consist of a micro-mini skirt, plunging bodice, fishnet stockings and an apron that wouldn’t cover a white rabbit. She wanted Alice in Wonderland, not Alice in Hookerland, but alas, she couldn’t find anything appropriate.

So what did she do? My girl searched the deep confines of the basement for my sewing machine (which has been used exactly twice since the Cretaceous Period) and made her own costume, sans pattern, sans instructions, sans any sewing experience other than a summer class she took when she was in the fifth grade. As the machine whirred late into the night, I was in awe of her talent and determination, and also felt a twinge of sadness. This was her last Halloween before she goes off to college next fall.

On Halloween evening, as I crunched through dry leaves during my customary walk around the ‘hood to check out everybody’s costumes (it’s much more fun to see the ghouls in action, rather than wait for the doorbell to ring), I saw lots of superheroes, princesses, skeletons and vampires, but no Alices. I did see a girl dressed up as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” though, with her dad accompanying her as the Cowardly Lion. They took me back to 2007 — the year my daughter decided to be Dorothy and I drove her to four toy stores in search of the perfect stuffed “Toto” to put in her wicker basket. And a preschooler dressed as a tarantula reminded me of Halloween 2010 when my daughter was “Queen of the Black Widows” and paraded with her pirate brother around the neighborhood with a red hourglass on her black velvet dress, a giant web on her back and an enormous spider “crown.”

When I returned home from my trick-or-treat trek, I wore that creepy crown on my own head to answer the door, half-expecting to see my daughter bound up the steps and ring the doorbell like she used to at the end of her happy rounds.

How delightful it was to watch her frantically brush her hair on Saturday night (“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”) and slip into her Alice costume, finished just hours before. “Bye, Mom, gotta run,” she said with a Cheshire cat grin after posing for a few quick snaps with her Mad Hatter boyfriend. “I’ll be home by midnight.”

I smiled through happy tears, recalling a favorite “Wonderland” phrase as she hurried out the door. Life really has become “curiouser and curiouser.”

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Last week, I went shopping with my daughter for the third (and last) time for a high school homecoming dress. Although it was a bittersweet outing, we’ve certainly come a long way since our first trip to Dillards’ prom dress department when she was a sophomore. Then, she accused me of wanting her to dress neck-to-toe in scratchy calico like Laura Ingalls Wilder after I pointed out that a backless, midnight blue gown was a bit too “revealing.”

I made a quick save that day in the dressing room and explained that I meant to say the dress was “revelatory” about her personality. Perhaps too revelatory. In the end, it didn’t matter because my girl used her common sense and picked out a lacy black-and-cream dress that looked like something Grace Kelly would have worn to New York City’s 21 Club.

Since that first excursion, I’ve learned that the secret to shopping for teen formal wear is to casually sit back, snap pics of each outfit and offer more “wows” and “yowzas” than “hmmmmms.” I now trust my daughter to winnow her choices to the top three and keep my preferences for a slinky, golden Gatsby dress or ballerina-style layers of black taffeta and tulle to myself.

This is her fantasy, not mine.

Last week, after she settled on a merlot-colored, sleeveless gown with a midriff panel of sheer lace, my daughter turned to me with shining eyes as we took the escalator down to the jewelry department to pick out some matching earrings.

“Thanks, Mom,” she said, beaming. “I love it.”

I felt a little pang inside when I realized that there will only be a few more moments like these, with a holiday dance coming up and prom night in April. Perhaps I’ll help her to pick out a new dress to celebrate high school graduation. And then she’ll be off to college, on her own.

No wedding dresses yet, I want to tell her. No maternity dresses for the next decade, either. Take one milestone at a time. Instead, when we get home and she fans out her new dress on her bed to admire it, I give her a hug and tell her simply, “Nicely done, sweetie. Love you.”

She will always have my heart.

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Remember the 25-pound bag of rice that my son insisted on buying at Costco two months ago when I took him shopping for new apartment supplies for him and his two roommates? Remember how I bet him 20 bucks and a rice-and-beans family dinner that half of that rice would still be there by New Year’s Day?

Guess what, people? I peeked in his pantry the other day when he wasn’t looking and THE BAG HAS NOT EVEN BEEN OPENED. He hasn’t boiled enough rice to feed a goldfinch! We had a little “conversation” and it went something like this:

Mom to Son (casually leaning against his kitchen counter): “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you — I picked up a great rice cookbook for you at the bookstore the other day. I’ll give it to you the next time you drop by.”

Son: “Hmmmm. OK. Thanks. But that really wasn’t necessary.”

Mom: “Au contraire. You and the guys must be getting SO tired by now of rice and beans. This cookbook has recipes for Caribbean chicken and rice, Puerto Rican rice, Cajun sausage and rice and sizzling Chinese rice soup. There’s even a recipe for Indian rice pudding. Damn. I probably should have picked one up for myself.”

Son: “Well, you could keep that one. There’s nothing wrong with rice and beans. We’re seriously doing fine.”

Mom: “Oh, no — this is a gift for you! I’ll just borrow it, sometime. You know, I’ll probably have to take you shopping for another bag of rice soon, because once you guys try these recipes, you’ll be going through rice like Greeks at a double wedding.”

Son (smiling): “I seriously doubt that.”

Mom: “Black rice cakes, wild rice soup, Indonesian sticky rice, rice salad, Italian saffron rice …”

Son: “OK, I get it! Enough with the rice. I’ll look through the cookbook. But we’ll probably end up sticking with rice and beans.”

Mom: “Rice with black beans, rice with kidney beans, rice with lima beans…”

Son: “Arrrrgh. Would you STOP!”

Mom (bursting into laughter): “You haven’t touched that rice yet, have you?”

Son: “Nope.”

Mom: “Why not? Are you holding out for the apocalypse?”

Son (laughing): “Something like that. Actually, Ben also bought a big bag of rice. We’ve been using that. Can that count towards the bet?”

Mom (lightly giving son the “Elaine Benis shove” from “Seinfeld”): “Get out! No way! Only one 25-pound bag of rice is allowed per bet! And said bag has to be one that I actually bought for you. Yup!”

Son: “Well, I still have three months. I can still win that bet.”

Mom: “Only if you invite 500 people over for jambalaya. Want the cookbook?”

Son (deeply sighing): “All right. I’ll take the cookbook. Do you have a rice cooker I can borrow?”

Mom: “Only if I’m invited for dinner.”

Son (sighing more deeply): “OK. Deal. But only on a night when I don’t have to study.”

Mom: “In other words, never?”

Son: “Well, I do study a lot. But maybe on a Sunday sometime.”

Mom (hugging son): “Perfect! Middle-eastern rice with chicken and olives?”

Son: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.” 😊❤️

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I’ve been so busy living my life lately that I haven’t taken much time during the past several weeks to sit down and write about it. Two excellent movies that I saw over the Labor Day weekend, though, finally inspired me to carve out some time for an overdue blog post.

First, I sneaked away to see “BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee’s extraordinary true-life film about Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve with the Colorado Springs Police Department in the 1970s. Working with a friend who was an undercover narcotics detective, Stallworth infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan, even speaking regularly over the telephone with the hate group’s leader, David Duke.

Although entertaining, Lee’s film more importantly provides a searingly honest and uncomfortable glimpse of racism in America. Halfway through it, I started to cry, realizing how little had changed in four decades. In fact, in many ways, the situation today seems much worse, with white supremacists again marching openly, hate crimes in the headlines almost daily and a Hater-in-Chief in the Oval Office, firing off every insult that enters his head with no thought or care about the outcome. I climbed into my car for the drive home feeling shell-shocked and angry, wondering what it will take to finally put the battles of racism and sexism behind us. Hasn’t this country learned anything from the past?

At that moment, there was only one person I wanted to talk to: my mom.

Until she became ill and required a care center, my mother was my most frequent movie companion, especially if the films involved history, true crime or controversy and caused those who viewed them to stop popping Milk Duds into their mouths and think about what they ultimately meant. Although my mother’s body is no longer active, her mind is still running on full steam most days. She listened intently as I told her about the movie and showed her photographs of the real-life Ron Stallworth on my iPhone. Then she reached out for my hand and squeezed it tightly.

“It’s a hard time,” she said, “but you can’t give up. One day at a time, everyone has to make a difference the best way they can. Nobody can solve all the world’s problems, but everyone can show kindness to even one person.”

Comforted by her optimism, I smiled through my tears all the way home. Then two nights later, I stopped by my mom’s room at the care center again, this time to watch “RBG” — the award-winning CNN documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our country’s first female Supreme Court justice. My mother had wanted to see it for months.

Over plates of her favorite Florentine ravioli, we watched raptly as a young Ginsburg took on gender equality, encouraged by her husband and longtime love, Marty, who died eight years ago. We cheered as she was appointed to the high court by President Bill Clinton, laughed at her reaction to skits about her on Saturday Night Live and shook our heads in amazement at footage of her working out with weights at age 85.

“Hang in there, Ruth — we need you,” said my mother as the end credits rolled. I looked at her, propped up in her bed, enthusiastically waving her black cane in the air, and smiled.

“Hang in there, Mom — we also need YOU,” I said, kissing her forehead. That evening, I drove home with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” pounding from the speakers and my mom’s longtime mantra echoing in my head:

“Never give up. Never give in.” ☺️❤️🦉

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What an honor it is today to wish my mother, Joy, aka “Snowy Owl Woman,” a happy 78th birthday. Last November, when doctors diagnosed her with sepsis, gave her two or three days to live and whisked her into her hospice, my three siblings and I never could have imagined that we’d be buying birthday presents and cards this week for our mom.

It’s now been 261 days since I acted on a hunch and asked a mobile phlebotomist to come to my mom’s care center on the day after Thanksgiving to give her a blood test, confirming my suspicion that she wasn’t actually dying. Although she’s now back on hospice status due to a nasty bed sore, my mother is doing well — so well, in fact, that she’s asked me to bring her a bottle of good whiskey today in celebration.

Of course, I’m more than happy to oblige. I’ll also be taking her a dozen dark chocolate cupcakes, a new bottle of perfume (Dior’s J’adore Joy) and a Donald Trump Balloon Baby T-shirt, since she’s been coveting mine. : ) The best gift, though, is the one that my mom has given our family: 261 more days of stories, smiles and laughter; 261 more nights of falling asleep knowing that our beautiful Snowy Owl Woman is alert, talkative and happy, not yet ready to take flight.

Happy Birthday to you, sweet mother of mine. The past year hasn’t been an easy one, but you’ve risen above the sadness and uncertainty. You’ve shown us all how to shine.

❤️🎂❤️🎂❤️

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