Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Birthday Balloon at Age 90

I never knew this until she told me but the balloon I gave to Mom for her 90th Birthday earlier this month was the first birthday balloon she had ever received. I bought it on impulse, the morning of her birthday wanting something big and bold for her to hang in the doorway of apartment 233 at Merrill Gardens. I wanted something visual to attract attention to the fact that today was a big day in her life, a milestone, a blessing to have come this far and to still be able to celebrate an event like this surrounded by family. The helium balloon was the largest they had; I intentionally went for BIG and truth be known, it really was rather gauche. But, Mom was touched and it graced the exterior doorway for at least all of that day and then moved inside behind her chair in the living room.

The balloon gradually lost air and sank to the floor. Earlier this week I said to Mom, “Let me take care of the balloon for you.” (note: I didn’t say get rid of as our Mother hangs on to everything, often out of sentimentality, often just because it cost money and might be good for another use at another time). She lived through the Great Depression; we have always concluded that this has made her save everything (although our Father who lived through the same era wants to purge everything out and live off the bare minimum). Mom’s response was “Oh no, I want to keep it. I like to look at it. I’ve never had a birthday balloon before.” And so I respected her wishes, said, “Ok, Mom” and just let it go hoping that eventually the balloon would be surrendered to the usual balloon fate.

Surprisingly, the very next day when I was visiting and just ready to leave apartment 233, Mom said to me, “Go ahead and take the balloon; I’m sure you can use it again for someone else’s birthday.” Without missing a beat, I said, “Sure Mom, good idea, I’ll take it.” And, out the door I went with the wilted Happy Birthday Balloon. I think both she and I knew that the surrender of that balloon acknowledged an acceptance of its true fate. She, however, unable to accept that she was “throwing away” a gift that two weeks ago delighted her, rationalized that I could recycle it. But, in her heart, she KNEW.

I kept the balloon in my car for a few days, too busy to haul it up the steps into the house with all my other things. And now it sits on my living room floor with the faintest bit of helium keeping it upright. I will live with it awhile and then release it to the universe where all spent balloons go but not yet because somewhere deep inside, I hate to give it up as well.

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