Today is April 7th. It would be my mother-in-law, Dode's, 90th birthday. A year ago, I was buying two hanging flower baskets and taking them to her apartment in the senior community. I placed both on hooks we'd hung on her patio, visible from her recliner, where she was eating, and sleeping, now.
Her birthday didn't go as planned. Her trip to the beach with her daughter, cancelled. She was in too much pain. Getting into and out of the car, the drive - all too much. Forget about walking on the beach, even getting to the window with a view, would be arduous.
I had learned all the ins-and-outs of how blood does or does not coagulate, and what contributed to that: diet, stress, pain, medication - a recipe whose secret was out-of-grasp. Wild goose chases to find the high-dose Vitamin K, stocking up on leafy green vegetables, painstakingly adjusting her daily pill boxes, cutting her pills carefully and taking all the extra pieces home in a Ziploc bag, so she couldn't possibly take the wrong dose by mistake. Daily trips to the "coag" clinic, extra trips to the lab, involving wheelchairs, extra bodies to help me get her in and out of the car, her nearly-useless legs placed into position on the footrests.
We knew she was dying. We didn't know she would be gone in less than two weeks.
We knew she was stubborn. We didn't know it would, ultimately, be the death of her.
We knew she was sweet. We didn't know that would be the word all the many that helped her those last few days, would use to describe her.
When she took her final ambulance trip, and returning to her apartment was no longer something any of us could consider, I went back for the baskets. I hung them up outside my back door, where I could see them through the windows of the kitchen. In contrast to Dode's view from her chair, my view was from my busy feet, back-and-forth, in-and-out of the kitchen, many times a day.
The baskets made it through the spring, well into the summer. By the end of August, they had lost their blooms, their vitality, they were ready for the compost bin. They had brought Dode a few days' worth of joy, and me many months'. It is time to buy and hang this year's batch. I will pick two that remind me of her - just what she would choose: pink flowers, mostly, perhaps a little yellow or blue. I will water them, fertilize, pinch off the dead "heads." As I walk in and out of my kitchen, opening and shutting the back door many times a day, I will not take for granted my ability to do so. I will send up a prayer of gratitude for the stubborn, sweet woman who welcomed me into her family and into her heart, and ultimately, into her life in a very intimate way.
Happy birthday, Dode. I know you're surrounded by all that, and many of those, whom you loved.