As I stood and chatted with old friends and neighbors at my mother’s wake, it saddened me that there was not the crowd I had anticipated. But she had left her friends and neighbors 2 years ago, when she had to move into assisted living near me. She was over 98, and most of her peers and all of her immediate family, except for me, had preceded her in death. As she put it, she was the last leaf left on the tree. That’s why I was so glad I made every effort to make sure she had the most wonderful 90th birthday party she could imagine. My mother was the event-planner extraordinaire, so it was hard for her to not take over the planning. It was not a surprise, so I let her make the guest list, and I let her plan the refreshments, but I did not let her choose the decorations on the cake or anything else.
There were 2 sheet cakes, as we had over 100 guests, and the church let us use their fellowship hall. One cake was decorated like a Scrabble board, because of her love of the game, complete with Happy Birthday written down and across. The other one was decorated like a piano keyboard, because of her talent as a pianist. As each guest arrived, they were handed a crossword puzzle game, because of Mom’s skill at doing them, in ink, with all the clues being about her. It created a fun way for people to mingle as they asked each other for the answers. One of the surprises was a chocolate fountain, a big hit with the kids. There was a copy of the newspaper from the day of her birth. Her Red Hat Society friends all showed up in their hats and posed with her for a picture. So did her Tri Kappa friends. Kara, along with some special friends, decorated the hall with balloons and flowers, and Steve brought crafts and games and entertained the little kids. Her great grandchildren at that time ranged in age from 2 to 7, and of course, there were precious photo ops. The best surprise of the party was having a local barbershop quartet emerge from the crowd, surround her and sing several songs to her. She was beaming, and so was I. It was a wonderful way to celebrate her life, while she was alive and well enough to enjoy it herself. Even though she didn’t get to plan it, she still loved every minute.
That night, after the grandkids and great grandkids had all gone to a hotel for the night, Mom and I sat by the fire with a glass of wine to bask in the glow of the day. “What did you enjoy the most?” I asked her. “Seeing all my family and friends,” she said, without a hesitation. That Christmas, Kara presented her with an artfully crafted scrapbook of memories from that day.
As I packed up the things from her apartment, after her passing, I was reminded of her love of history, travel, and the English language, but when I found that scrapbook, it was like discovering buried treasure. It is a memoire, in pictures, of the richness of her life