The day of my 16th birthday dawned hot and clear. The bright Melbourne sky seared impossibly blue outside my bedroom window.
It was the first day of the school year. Year 11 beckoned.
I could hear some commotion in Mum and Dad’s room, next to mine. Small noises, sighs and groans as they moved around to begin the day. I realise now that they were the sounds of deep pain, weariness and anguish. But by then, I had got used to them as the regular course of things in a household with a sick mother.
As it was my birthday, I was supposed to stay in my room and wait, while the others prepared to walk in with my birthday presents, brightly singing a harmonic rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. But after a little while, Dad popped his head around my door.
“Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room.”
He looked tired.
I quickly got up, skipped to the room next door, gingerly crawled across to the middle of the bed, and sat close to Mum. I was careful because I knew any movement caused her a lot of pain. She was thin and drawn. She smiled at me and kissed me on the cheek.
“Happy Birthday Jen,” she whispered.
I smiled back at her, and held her hand.
I had given her a little white vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in 3-D relief on it for her birthday less than two weeks before. It was there, on her bedside table, with some flowers I had picked from our garden, a silent testament to our birthdays being so close.
I went off to school with my younger sister, not realising our lives would never be the same again. The rest of the day, under that brilliant blue sky, I experienced a full range of emotions . . .
Unexpectedly, Dad picked us up from school.
Sadly, he had taken Mum to hospital that day.
Hesitantly, we went to visit – and told her our news of the first day of school.
Happily, I had been elected Form Captain.
Unbelievably, we had birthday cake with candles, and they sang to me again.
Mum never returned home.
Last year Stephen and I took some time out for a sabbatical – a wonderful month in France. Every morning I spent time writing and reflecting on the way God has led me over the years.
One night I woke up, only half aware of what I was thinking. I had spent the previous morning writing down my recollections of that final birthday with Mum. She wasn’t expected to last until Christmas, I had written. But, I reflected in my sleepy state, she made it to her birthday, January 22. And once she had got to that date, she kept going until my birthday, on February 4.
No, no, no. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
SHE KEPT GOING UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!
I gasped and the tears came quickly. I stifled them trying, unsuccessfully, not to wake Stephen. She had kept herself going! For me! The thought of this final act of love was overwhelming. I groaned, and the tears flooded. She was there for my 16th birthday, at home, and at hand, with me in her bed. A special memory.
Maybe it was coincidental. Maybe she would have lasted that long anyway. But in the intervening 40 years I have learnt a lot about the human soul. I have learnt that sometimes people decide to let themselves go, and slide downhill in a rapid descent to death. And sometimes they can hold on. They keep themselves going.
It was another week after my birthday before her end came. Turning Sweet Sixteen? That was not to be my story. But thanks to her gift, I have never had any other birthday marred by the anniversary of her death. I am so grateful.
There are a few things I have realised as I have reflected on those events:
- My mother treasured me – and it makes me want to treasure her all the more. It has a circular effect. No matter what your mother was like, there will be times when she treasured you too.
- Sometimes it is worth reflecting on those horrible parts of your life, because while it can be costly, you realise things you didn’t know before.
- As mothers, we treasure our children, but often they will not realise what we sacrifice for them. Or if they do, it might not be for a long time.
- It gives me a tiny glimpse of God’s overwhelming love for me. Unexpected, uncalled for, unmerited, unjustified, but complete.
Listen to me telling my story to Scottie Haas on ultra106five >>>