Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Birthday Weekend

Thirty-one years (and 2 days) ago, my mom gave birth to a beautiful set of twins. See, aren't they beautiful? ;)

For every year of my life, with the exception of 2, I have celebrated my birthday with my twin brother, Joe. The first birthday we missed together was our 18th, when I was 3 states away in college. The following year, however, Joe drove 16 hours straight through the night to visit me at college to spend our 19th birthday together. The other birthday missed was a couple of years ago, as he was living in Florida and had planned for the holidays (and couldn't make both birthday and holidays work). Our birthday just isn't complete if we don't have each other to celebrate with. It's a twin thing.

A few years ago, Joe moved across the country, to Florida. It's been hard having him live so far away. He's been missing out on family parties and Sunday dinners and it just isn't complete without him here. On the bright side, he has continued to make it out every year for our birthday. It's something I look forward to every year; to celebrate with my "womb mate".

This year, there was a slight change of plans. A few weeks ago, Joe was interviewed and hired for a job in Arizona, which is only a 5 hour drive from where we live (he is taking this job while processing for another job which could put him back in California...the processing time on that job is a year). At this point in our lives, I think Joe misses the family gatherings and we are learning all too well that our time with one another is precious. With him moving close, we will be able to see each other at least monthly and be there for special occassions. Last week, as well as this week, he is in Arizona for job training. With the upcoming moving expenses, he informed me that he would be unable to make it out for our birthday. Obviously I was terribly bummed that he couldn't make it. Normally I'd hassle him a little and give him the twin guilt that we simply can't miss our birthday together, but given the circumstances, I didn't push the issue. I know he's giving up a lot to come here and I am ecstatic that he will be living closer. He will be here right in time for Thanksgiving.

As we talked about the weekend and my birthday, my husband insisted that he wanted to take me out to breakfast. 'Why breakfast?' I thought. He knows I'm not a morning person. Nevertheless, I could see that my sweet hubby really wanted to celebrate with the family by taking me out to breakfast, so I went along with it. Imagine my surprise, when I walked into IHOP and saw my brother sitting next to my dad in the waiting area! I was so excited to see him and giddy that they were able to surprise me without even one suspicion on my part (anyone who knows me well knows it is extremely difficult to surprise me...I'm suspicious by nature, ha ha).

As happy as I was to see Joe, I was a little bummed that Natalie and Adri couldn't make it (his wife and adorable daughter). Again, they have a lot of expenses to pay for with the upcoming move, and they just couldn't make it work. After breakfast, Jeff and I had an errand to run, as did my dad and brother, so they said they would meet me at my house when they were done. As we pulled into the driveway at my house, I saw Joe's rental car pull in behind us. I was caught off guard when I saw Natalie sitting in the front seat. Not only did they surprise me once, but they got me twice without me even suspecting a thing!! (I must be losing it in my old age!!)

That was a really long background story for this post. I suppose I wanted to illustrate how close we are as a family and how much it meant to have Joe here for our birthday. We miss him terribly when he's away. It was tough on my mom when he left as well. So how did she react when she saw him?

Joe arrived at my parent's house late Friday night. As you probably know from reading my other posts, mom's bedtime is 9:00. Joe got in around 10:00, and at a time like this, who cares about bedtime? Mom was told that Joe was there and she refused to get out of bed.

"I'm such a plain Jane without my make-up, I don't want him to see me!"

This has become the norm with her; she doesn't want anyone to see her without make-up because she is a "Plain Jane". I usually pay no attention to her objections and remind her that I have seen her my entire life without make-up. Joe did the same. He went back to her room, despite her objections, and visited with her as she babbled on and on about her "weird" looks and her "severe" health problems.

The next morning, she did not join us for breakfast. It was too early for her to get out of bed and get ready to go. I, of course, expected this. But with Joe there, I a little surprised that she did not take advantage of the short time we had with him.

After Natalie arrived, I took her out to grab a bite to eat and to stop over at my parent's house to say hi to my mom. Mom didn't know yet that Natalie was there. We wanted to see if she would recognize her, although deep down I already knew what the outcome would be. I walked into the living room and called for my mom.

"I'm back here, I can't come right now," she called back. Despite my insistance, she wouldn't come. I knew exactly where she was: at her computer playing a game. Natalie and I walked back to the room and stood in the doorway, side by side. Mom turned around and looked at me and her eyes kept glancing over at Natalie as she rapidly spoke to me,

"What I was wondering is if we could take you later today for dinner at Miguel's with Joe here, too, for...to celebrate your birthday too, we could eat at Miguel's because it's so delicious and Joe would really like that too...yeah..."

I nodded my head and then turned my attention to Natalie.

"Mom, do you remember...my friend?"

Mom looked blankly at Natalie and then slightly shook her head.


"You don't remember who this is Mom? Natalie?" I expected this, but it was still hard to process. I felt a small lump form in my throat. I could see the sadness in Natalie's eyes as well, as she fought the tears from surfacing. Mom tried to connect the dots.

"Deana," Natalie said, "It's me, Natalie. Joe's wife."

"Oh, Natalie. Yeah," she said, seemingly embarassed at having forgotten her daughter-in-law. "Yeah I know Natalie, I just didn't know she was here so I didn't know it was her."

It makes sense. With this form of dementia, if they don't see you on a regular basis, they cannot connect your face and name. Once she was prompted, she recognized Natalie again (this isn't the case for everyone she sees...but she is still familiar with the idea of family at this point...if that makes sense). I wonder if she would have recognized Joe had she not already known he was coming?

Later that afternoon, we had some family time touring March Air Force Base (an airfield museum). Try as we might to get my mom to come with us for some family fun, she would not come. It was her naptime. She joined us later that evening for birthday dinner at- where else -Miguel's.

The next morning, my dad came over to my house with my mom. Joe and Natalie had decided to spend the night at our place and we had planned to have a family BBQ later on that afternoon for our birthday. It was around 11:30 when they arrived. Shortly after arriving, my dad had to take her home because it was almost noon, which is lunch time. I was upstairs, primping, in the brief time they were over so I didn't even realize they had left. After the fact, I told my dad she could've eaten lunch at my house, but mom wanted to be at her own house with her own food. Dad returned shortly before 1:00 without my mom. She refused to come because it was her naptime. My sister, who was working until 2:30 on that day, stopped by to pick mom up later on in the afternoon on her way over.

We took advantage of the family time and took some pictures; mom with her twins and a full family shot with all the kids and grandkids (the grandkids are taking over!!)

I admit that I felt frustrated with mom; I think we all felt unsettled with the way she had behaved over the weekend. Joe had traveled miles and hours to see us; he hadn't been here in over 4 months yet she spent more time alone at home than she did with us as a family. Logically we know that we can't blame her, for it isn't truly "mom" that is behaving this way. It is the disease. So we know that we can't be mad at her for choosing to pull away from our precious family time, but it still hurts all the same. She is slipping away from us day by day, little by little. For those of us who are around regularly, the changes seem more gradual. For Joe and Natalie, whose visits are few and far between, the changes are much more noticable. While I enjoyed my short time with my brother and his family enormously, I miss my mom's presence. In the blink of an eye, our family has changed. We cannot bring back the times we once had and enjoyed together. One thing I have learned is to never pass up an opportunity to spend time with the people you love.

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