My uncle was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. Five weeks ago he moved to Hospice (the setting of the last story, "Parting Gift"), so he could spend the last few weeks of his life in peace and relative comfort. A little over two weeks ago I got a call from my mom telling me Uncle Jay was slipping and it wouldn't be much longer now. I booked a last minute flight, even though my mom and my aunts told me I might not make it in time to see him, and headed north with the girls. "The end" has come many times since then, but my uncle's still here and so are we. I had anticipated this trip to last days, not weeks, and it didn't even once cross my mind that I might be here for Mother's Day. In fact, the holiday had been so far off my radar that I didn't even realize it was coming until the Friday before when my husband reminded me.
I was kind of bummed about spending Mother's Day in Ohio, away from my husband, who made me a mom in the first place (he told me he even had a plan this year...), but at least I had my kids with me. In the middle of running back and forth to Pittsburgh every day to see my uncle, my family scrambled to make it nice, though. Every year my mom has a big Mother's Day brunch-the type of thing that one starts preparing for days in advance. There wasn't going to be a brunch this year, though, as everyone would be in Pittsburgh. The plan was to have everyone over for dinner when they got back that night.
When I'm at my parents' house, my mom gets the kids when they wake up so I can pump in peace first thing in the morning before going downstairs. Sunday morning, mid-pump, Ella burst through my bedroom door wishing me her version of "Happy Mother's Day." She walked around the room and made a mess (as she always does when I'm tethered to the pump) for a while, and then stopped and exclaimed, "Mommy, do you want your present? Will it make you so happy?" Present? She doesn't have a car yet, so Steve's the one who takes her shopping, and he wasn't here. I don't know how she could have gotten a present without my knowing, unless my mom took her, which I didn't remember happening either. "Maybe we should wait until we go downstairs," I told her, but it was too late-she was off in a flash. A minute later I heard her clumping up the stairs and then dragging something heavy sounding behind her down the hallway. "Here's your present, Mommy," she said as she dragged a giant and heavy looking gift bag through the door, "It will make you so happy!" "Do you like it? Open it, Mommy! Do you want me to help you?" Ella started pulling tissue paper out of the bag, revealing a shoe box that she hauled up to my lap with all of her might (it obviously not shoes, unless she had come up with some sort of steel-toed Mother's Day boot). "It will make you happy, Mommy, open it! Do you know what it is, Mommy? It's..." "Let's go downstairs to open it so Nana Mimi can see," I told her as I disengaged from the pump. I thought my mom should be there to see the opening as I assumed, now that I knew there was an actual present, that she had taken Ella out without my knowing and had likely guided her in her choice. "Here you go, Mommy, it's a nail polish and it's so pretty and sparkly," she told me as she pulled a little package out of the bag. I told her that the nail polish was, indeed, "so pretty and sparkly," gathered up the gift bag carnage and my daughter, and headed downstairs before she could reveal the contents of the mystery package.
Once downstairs, Ella yipped about my ankles, waiting for me to open the other present. I opened the shoebox to reveal a green ceramic frog lawn ornament. Maybe she did pick it out all by herself, after all. "Do you like it, Mommy? Is it so pretty? Does it make you so happy?" It did.
Later that night we exchanged presents with the rest of the family. Somehow in the middle of all of the long trips to Hospice, the early mornings and the long, sad nights spent waiting, everyone had found time to buy something special for everyone else. Gifts flew in all directions--books, picture frames, tote bags, sunglasses, gift cards to favorite stores-each carefully thought out as something that would be appreciated by someone else. Ella had painted and bedazzled flower pots, which she proudly carried to her great-grandma, grandma, great-aunts and aunts. My grandma bought my sister, my sister-in-law and me beautiful hand made purses from my uncle's shop. They were the last three and she wasn't sure there would be any more so she wanted us to have them. Mother's Day was like Christmas this year--I think we all needed something to celebrate amidst the sadness. The women in our family, each of whom had done more than their share as caregivers this past year, celebrated each other's strength via retail.
It was a memorable Mother's Day, to say the least. The best present though, and the one I will remember the most, was an email I got from my aunt just after midnight the night before:
Thanks for being here, for not leaving any babies on the plane,for listening, for blogging, for bookmaking (I gathered stories and pictures from family and friends and made a tribute book for my uncle. It's a long story, but the publishing company screwed up and I had to redo it-twice), for rebookmaking, for baby making, for rebookmaking, for lactating and crafting, for rebookmaking and most of all for being you- Your energies have radiated to each of us in so many ways, imparting a whole mess of strength. There isn't an hour that goes by, whether we're driving or in UJ's room, that one of us doesn't bring up an "Ella-ism." It's nice to be known as "That One" (When surrounded by multiple aunts, Ella often singles people out by calling them "that one"). I guess one might call me "That Girl." This is hard, but at least we are in our own surroundings and come home to our own beds at night. So, as Gramz ponders daily- "How does Amy do it??" The answer is simple- We don't know-She's just Amy- Simple and amazing!
PS- Happy Mother's Day Toots! xoab
Wednesday, May 16, 2007