"Happy New Year!"
It is April 13th, her 86th birthday and we are sitting across from each other in a hard wooden booth at Thai restaurant, waiting for our Number 57 with one and one-half stars.
"New Year?" I say.
"Well, I read it in the paper, I think. It's the Jewish New Year," she responds.
She is slowly leaving. It embarrasses her to be reminded her mind is running through some field, getting snagged on the barbs of the wire fencing trying in vain to contain it. Sometimes, I am the barbs attempting to keep her here. It is a Sisyphusean task; all I can really do is try to make each transition safer for her, easier for her.
Does it really matter that it's not any kind of New Year, or that she can't handle her finances any longer, or that nothing I can do will alter the course of her journey toward death?
"We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sail." (Old Kenyan saying)
Adjusting the sail, for me, means stepping fully into her present, accepting who and where she is right now, allowing the shift in dependence in our relationship. Reminding her of what she does not remember or can no longer do is as much a punishment as scolding an old dog for not keeping up on the long walks you used to take together.
Adjusting the sail is a small act of mercy, of grace. It isn't easy. But it is yet another of her many gifts to me as a mother. She is still teaching me.
"Happy New Year, Mom. I love you."
Mom at 16, Sullivan High School, Chicago, Illinois, 1942