On the walk to school this morning W told me a few kids in his class teased him about celebrating a half birthday. He said they told him, “there is no such thing”. Which is ridiculous – of course there are half birthdays. Not everyone celebrates them, but some of us do. I asked W how it felt when the kids said those things and he said it made him mad and sad. I told him those were valid feelings. I said we could also feel sad for those who don’t celebrate such a holiday because they don’t get bonus cake.
But what is that primal impulse within children to shut things down when they don’t understand something?
This morning I told W one of the many reasons why we enjoy celebrating HIS half birthday so much is because it allows us to also celebrate his great-grandmother. We talk about Millie and Pop all of the time. It brings me so much joy when I hear W reference either of them. Passing on their stories is important to me.
As we walked and I squeezed W’s hand, I reminded W that Millie had a disease called Alzheimer’s. I explained that it was a disease that took Millie’s memory away. It started with words, but then she forgot how to do simple tasks, or she forgot places or people. W asked, “And she forgot me?”
But you see – that’s the miracle that W was for us. Millie never forgot him.
Mother and I could walk into her room and she would smile at us. It was a smile of kindness, but not a smile of familiarity. She would softly moan, or on a good day make small talk. But if I had W with me she knew him. Knew his name, even. She had immediate recognition of who he was. It was such a precious gift we never expected.
I shared all of this with W this morning. I told him for six months I was a granddaughter AND a mother and it was very wonderful. People have all sorts of traditions in their families and in our family we honor half birthdays and we get the bonus of honoring that time.
W said, “And chocolate. We get chocolate.”
Six years ago my family said our final goodbye to Millie. We started saying goodbye to parts of her several years before she actually left us. Almost everyday there was a part of Millie to mourn. The chef, the organizer, the crossword buddy… Millie had a specific busy sound in the kitchen. It left. Millie was an aggressive and speedy typist. That left too.
But there are parts of Millie that still linger. Even now. There have been days when I have walked into an empty elevator and smelled the sweet perfume of White Linen – Millie’s signature scent. There have been days when I have found myself saying phrases that I only ever said around her. Like picking up a scalding cup of coffee and exclaiming, “Hot Coffee, Mississippi!”
And then my son asks for double chocolate ice cream and I laugh because Millie was the only one who ever ate that flavor.