Reflection: The Second Mother’s Birthday…and Giving Thanks.

The whole Thanksgiving holiday is a bit perplexing to those of us from ‘the islands’.  It’s a holiday we have embraced but we don’t really get. For many, it’s just another day to get a day off from work and school and the banks are closed.

When you think of the Caribbean, what comes to mind? White, sandy beaches, a spattering of hedonism, alcohol, food and whatever else?  But, beneath the surface lies depth.  Island folks believe in “giving thanks” every day.  I say a prayer before I eat.  I say prayers (occasionally — yes, not all the time — and I’m not going front) before bed.  I’m not turning this post into paragraphs about religion, but I bring it up to highlight the point that the act of “thanksgiving” is something practiced (sometimes in an overwhelming, all consuming and judgmental way – *eye raise*) when you’re from the Caribbean.  Yes, ‘the islands’ — British, Dutch, French, Spanish — are filled with fire and brimstone.  Religion — no matter what you practice — is a very strong influence culturally.

I could say a whole lot more here, but I won’t.

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The Second Mother’s 90th birthday | Cupcakes from 350 Classic Bakeshop in Rye, NY

Thanksgiving had even greater meaning this year.  It was truly a day of thanks, huge on blessings:

The Second Mother celebrated a milestone — her 9th decade — her 90th birthday.

It has been quite a journey during the past 12 – 24 months.  Before, there was a woman who slept in her own bed, in her own room, in a warm home, who walked around on her own with a cane (granted, with difficulty, but she still did it), ate solid food, among other things.

Today, it’s like a 180-degree change.  None of this exists.  None.  For just over a year, she has been living in her new home: A nursing home.

Her brain has deteriorated.

Dementia is a terrible thing.  It signals the beginning of the end.  It is like immense sadness times 10. 

You realize, in the words of an old island saying, that…

“What was isn’t are any more.”

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We — well, a fraction of La Familia and all its extensions — gathered at the nursing home on Saturday after Thanksgiving.  For those who couldn’t gather in person, we Skyped.  (The beauty of 21st century technology.  Hallelujah, we have come so far!)  It was going to be as special as we could make it.

Said @KiBoogies, a.k.a. Lil Sis, one my cousins…

“She was there in the present.”

She may not remember what took place a week from now, a month from now, a day from now, but in those few hours, we had her — as she was and is now — and we were grateful.  She laughed.  She had small conversations with everyone.  Sure, she couldn’t place faces, but it didn’t matter.  She may have been a bit confused at times, but the light on her face said there was still a light in that soul of hers.

She has lived through colonialism, independence, hurricanes, earthquakes, the death of both parents — one of them horrific — as well as the death (that none of us saw coming) of a brother, a niece and a grand nephew, as well as others.  She has lived through seeing the change in how we communicate and the speed at which we do. From no telephones to mobile phones of all kinds, as well as televisions (first black and white and then color), the Internet, oh, and Skype! She has lived through moving in late middle age from the only country she had ever known to another with very, very, very (did I say “very”?) different values and mores — and a lot more open-mindedness (even though she was never and would never be) than she could ever care for — ever.

Most of all, she has lived her life as she wanted.

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So, there were were, Saturday, November 24.  Frankly, the most important element of the entire birthday was not so much that a group of us were there physically or via electronic means but that two people in particular were there with her…

The Matriarch and Sassy Spitfire…

…her sisters.  Collectively, affectionately, we have dubbed them, “The Golden Girls”…a tight threesome who in less than 3 years have found themselves separated, severed, if you will — by circumstances.  But, here’s the thing:  She’s still here.  They’re still here:  The 91-year old.  The 90-year old. The 85-year old.

Yes, we give thanks to the One above for the glory and blessings, including these three women, and for the opportunity for those who love and care about The Second Mother to make the day completely special.  It was special, not only for her, but also for us.

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P.S.  Although The Second Mother is on a diet of pureed food and liquids, she was able with the help of her niece, Reds a.k.a. The West Indian Mother, to enjoy two partial spoons of a yummy cupcake, “The pink one,” she said.  She wanted the one with pink frosting.  So cute.  She liked it, so she said, and we passed along a whole batch to the nurses and aides assigned to her floor.  I’m sure they all got a boost of a sugar rush!  Although she was only able to have just a little and it had to be crushed almost to a paste with the spoon (in part because she has no teeth), at least she had the experience.  Today, the nursing home will celebrate her birthday and others who also have birthdays this month.  Happiness and blessings all around.

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