“I have the best mother in the whole world,” read my mom. She was reading the card I had given her for her birthday.
She didn’t know it was her birthday — not the first time I told her, or the second, or even the third.
She had no idea how old she was; when I asked her, she guessed 19. She might have been kidding, but there’s at least a fifty-fifty chance that she meant it, and when I told her she’s 88, she was shocked.
“I’m an old woman!” she said. “I’m going to have to die soon,” she continued in a song-song voice that sounded as if she had no idea what those words really meant.
Whenever I visit, she knows me, and she’s always happy to see me. Most times, she even says, “This is my daughter, Beth.”
But the awareness doesn’t hold. Soon she can’t remember my name or is introducing me as her mom or is calling me, “sis.”
Once, she took the hand of a Hebrew Home staff member and kissed it, in the same sweet way she kisses my hand. I had always thought that little kiss meant she loved me in a special way, my being her daughter and all. But that day I decided it simply meant that she loved, and anybody could be the lucky recipient of that love. Sometimes, that lucky recipient was me.
The moment I gave her that birthday card was different, though.
“I have the best mother in the whole world?” she read. I nodded yes and told her to open the card.
The inside read: “That’s you, mom. I love you tons! Happy birthday!”
When she read the words, she started to cry.
“Why are you crying, Mom?” I asked, and held her close.
“Because I just love you so much,” she said, as if she’d remembered all the years of struggle in our relationship, when she felt she was anything but the best mother in the world.
“I love you, too, Mom,” I said.
I put the card on the end of the bed, and we spent the next few minutes opening her presents. Mel and Joan sent her two tops and a pair of pants; I gave her a zip-up sweater.
When she got up to go to the bathroom, she saw the card on the end of the bed.
“What’s this?” she asked, and then started to read.
“I have the best mother in the whole world,” she read aloud, then opened it up and read the inside.
“That’s so nice,” she said. “Is that from you?”
“Yes, Mom,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. “Put that someplace safe. I don’t want to lose it.”