Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Janer.

The summer after 9th grade, I was granted the privilege of taking my best friend to the beach with us for our family vacation.  That week stands out in my mind quite a bit... we were days away from getting our Golden Retriever and while laying on the beach we decided that we would name her "Sandy"... we made numerous trips to the post office on Hilton Head so that my BFF could send letters to her boyfriend... and that same BFF nicknamed my mother "Janer".

22 years later, my heart smiles when I remember "Janer".

My mother was and is the smartest woman I've ever met.  She spent her career managing people in the information technology world- something that was groundbreaking as she entered that field out of college.  College, by the way, that she attended and earned a degree in 3 short years.  With all A's, except for a pesky "C" in swimming.  She married her high school sweetheart who may not have been the World's Best Choice for her... but he sure made her laugh back in the day.

She struggled for years to have children and celebrated like crazy when she had my brother.  His baby shoes- both bronzed and the bright red pair- were saved in her cedar chest along with a maternity dress. I found those this week while I cleaned out her house... along with some baby outfits, *more* baby shoes, baby keepsakes, and baby pictures... all of the treasures of being rewarded the desires of her heart.

Three years after having my brother, she had me.  If she could she would tell you that I was a perfect child- no lie- which quickly changed when I became a teenager.  From the moment I began thinking that my mother didn't understand anything (and that I was right on so many things), our relationship changed until the point I realized that she just might be right after all.  I cringed every time I heard her sigh and say "Oh, Becky..."-- yet I realized after looking at each church bulletin, school newspaper, award, and card that I ever sent her that I filled her life with more pride than disappointment... regardless of how it may have seemed in those turbulent teenage years.

I developed a love of travel from Janer-- Hilton Head, Europe, Canada, New York... I saw them all through the lens of vacation with the best of intentions to enjoy every moment.  Our last "big" trip together was to celebrate my 30th birthday.  Her attention to details (and handwritten lists) made me roll my eyes at the time... I wanted her to "wing it" in moments when she couldn't... and now I see that time as one of the last big gifts she would be able to give me.

We started noticing her illness early- when you are that smart and that "with it", it is startling when things start to "slip."  Gently I tried to talk to her about getting help, but because of the walls broken down by disease, that wasn't possible.  Nearly 2 years ago we intervened in a big way, and almost a year ago we moved her to an Assisted Living site in town so that she could receive the care she needed.

Daily I struggle with how my mother has become another person.  Dementia is a horrible, horrible affliction and robs people of their identity.  Daily I want "more" for her... and I live with the doubt and guilt and sadness that comes with all of our decisions.  Over the next week I will finish up cleaning out my childhood home (the only house I ever lived in until college) and will officially end my mother's chapter in Asheville.  And because of that, I weep.

But today.... today is her birthday.  Today we will celebrate.  In a few short hours my house will be filled with family and friends.  We will have a luncheon and eat some of my mom's favorite foods.  I called her late yesterday to prepare her for the crowd- thanks to her caretakers, we had determined a plan that would allow her to be "ready" to see people and not be alarmed.  When I told her, she nearly squealed with excitement (if she was the type of person who squealed, that is.)  And in "old" Janer fashion, she said, "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you told me.  I'll act surprised."

Who knows how she will be today- whether it will actually be a surprise for her or not.  Who knows if she will remember all the people here.  But I do know this: she will be surrounded with those who knew her as she grew up playing the piano, being the valedictorian, climbing the corporate ladder, as she was raising two children, and was a wonderful mother and grandmother... just by being Janer.

I wish you all had had the chance to know her then- but even if not, those here today could tell you story after story about what an amazing person she was....

... and still is.

I love you, Mom.


Kay Windsor said...

I wish for you, "Janer," and your family a most special celebration today. You do understand how to celebrate her, the person she was, is, always will be, even as you grieve for loss. My dad was often boyish as Alzheimer's claimed more and more of him. Each time I took him to the emergency department after a fall, he gave his age as younger than the time before, so after a couple of visits, I became older than he. You are so wise and kind to celebrate your mom where she is but acknowledge and love her for all the parts of her.

Eric Farmer said...

This is beautiful Becky! Mama Jane did a good job raising her daughter! Love you.

Angela Langford said...

Such a beautiful tribute to your mom! Her love for you was always shining through (and I only knew you during teenage years). Hope you had a great celebration!