she has been here at his side, most every day since that first day — february 6th. before the day that changed so much, i'd see her walking down the hall in her crisp denim pants and neatly pressed blouse or tailored jacket and i'd think: wow, i wish i could be that beautiful. in these weeks since daddy has been in the hospital, mama has seemed to grow more beautiful. she waves at the nurses in the hallway, the members of the lift team, the care partners — by now she practically knows all their names and they know her, a quiet but kind woman whose beauty they see, like i do, in how she cares for my dad.
now though, she can't get herself here, has to depend on others and on someone else's schedule to see the man she has been married to since she was 24.
it seems impossible to think that they are now both on such difficult but parallel paths. daddy works each day to regain the strength he had when he walked into the hospital so many weeks ago. mama works to walk again, too, but for entirely different reasons.
in the middle of our day-to-day journey, there is something to celebrate. mama turned 85 years old today, and we had a party, just like we might any other birthday, with a picnic lunch in a side room and with yellow roses requested specially by my daddy, with cards. but we also celebrated by watching her learn to wheel herself down the hallway toward my father, so together we could cheer him on to lift his arms, shrug his shoulders, breathe on his own.
this might be a new challenge for mama, but it is not the first.
betty jean mccormick byrum was born on april 12, 1928 and raised to be strong. to stand up for herself when need be, to fight back, even when she didn't feel like it. she has shown this to me over and over as i have grown up. when my father was sick and dying at 39 — and yet he didn't — when her family presented her with challenges — and especially right now.
she. carried. on.
i wish i had gotten that from her. the pick everything up and steady the load and keep on walking kind of thing. she did a lot of that, the mother of three and wife of a doctor who was often with other people's families. she picked it— us — up, and gave us a pretty wonderful life.
i tend to leave life all on the floor — as evidenced by my bedroom closet and my home for the past few months — hoping someone else will come behind me and make everything all straight. usually mama. when i was a child, she usually did.
there have been moments in my life though, when i called on my 'mama' instincts and took care of the impossible. all by myself. picked myself up and moved through what i didn't want to, because i come from her stock.
now it is my turn again.
you know i am a storyteller. this comes sometimes much to my parents' chagrin. might i tell too much? in their eyes probably... i hope only to tell the important.
mama is not one to share many stories about her childhood. i can remember, though, times when she shared a bit. how roosevelt died on her birthday. how she met my father at a medical school dance. (and my, was she beautiful.) how they lived their first married year with a murphy bed.
my favorite betty jean childhood story is the one when my grandmother sent her to the store to buy a loaf of bread, but wouldn't you know it? a new movie — "the wizard of oz" — was showing at the local theater. the 11-year-old betty jean rode her bike to the store, got the bread, and several hours later — maybe she sat through two showings — she emerged from the dark theater, too late for my grandmother's sandwiches, but she was a changed little girl.
weren't we all changed by that movie? our grayscale worlds turned suddenly into color by the wind?
in these past weeks, it feels like the wind has taken our colorful world and upended it, picked up our settled family home with it and crashed it down so rakishly that we don't know which end is up. and the whole world has turned to grayscale again.
we are not alone. a church friend one day this week said her 97-year-old father had the same injury as my mom, her own mother already in 24-hr care. she wept, telling me her story, and all i could do was hug her. i understand. add her to my now pages-long prayer list for families like my own.
my siblings and i have often joked that our family is just so beige. to the outside world i am sure that's how it seems. we tend to cling close, though i am the one who puts the story out there. neither of my parents have been comfortable with my writing about them from time to time, but i hope one day they will understand why.
today is my mother's birthday. all the grandchildren called her, and one even came to visit. she sat next to the love her life and held his hand. and he told her he loved her, one more time.
it was an honor to be with them as they shared their own private celebration.
today we celebrated my mother and my father. brave souls, both.
ps: a favorite college song was 'i'll always love my mama' by the intruders: watch the video here and dance!
writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.