Today – Monday, October 17, 2022 – would have been my mother’s 94th birthday.
For me, this date has been bittersweet for quite some time.
Sure, it is a sadder occasion now because Mom died on July 19 – a Sunday – of 2015, less than three months before her 87th birthday. But even during her last five years, October 17 was not exactly a festive occasion, mainly because my once active, fiercely independent, and intelligent parent – the only one that I got to know well because my dad, a pilot, died in a plane crash less than three weeks before my second birthday – spent the last half-decade of her life mostly confined to what was once our guest bedroom as her brain literally shrank from the effects of dementia, compounded by a slow and eventually failed recuperation from surgery to repair a badly damaged lower spine.
I don’t like thinking about that, though. And I know that my mom would not want me to be sad on her birthday, although she of all people would be the first to understand the way I feel. She, too, was no stranger to painful losses or adverse situations, and despite her normally sunny disposition, Mom would sometimes get maudlin on black letter days, such as my father’s birthday (which also fell in October) and the anniversary of his death (February 13).
You know what I do like thinking about?
I like remembering how supportive and loving she was toward people, especially me.
For instance, when I self-published my first book, Save Me the Aisle Seat: The Good, the Bad and the Really Bad Movies: Selected Reviews by an Online Film Reviewer, a little over a decade ago, she was thrilled, even though by then she was suffering the effects of her various illnesses. Mom was one of the first persons who wanted a copy, and even though she couldn’t read anymore – a fact that I was a bit in denial about initially – she still insisted on keeping her copy by her side, along with her daily issue of The Miami Herald on her hospital-style adjustable bed.
I also recall how excited she was when, in late May of 1988, I told her I was thinking about applying for a spot in the Fall 1988 Semester in Spain study abroad program in Sevilla, which at the time was under the aegis of the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) but is now known as the International College in Seville (ICS).
I remember feeling no small amount of trepidation before I mentioned that I wanted to go to Seville (Sevilla); in late 1987, I had wanted to sign up for a similar study abroad program in Salamanca (also in Spain), and Mom had gone to the trouble of renewing my U.S. passport, which had expired many years before. Before I could even sign up for the Salamanca program – which was only a six-week semester during the Spring term, I was told that it had been canceled due to a lack of interest from students in the schools that participated in that program.
Not only was I worried about raising my mother’s hopes for me (as well as my own expectations), but I also fretted because the Seville CCIS program would last longer (three months) and would therefore cost more.
I was confident that Mom would say “Yes, absolutely you’re going to Spain!” But I was not 100% sure. As you know, I am a big believer in the concept that “nothing in life is a certainty except death and taxes,” so even though Mom had been supportive when I first floated the idea of going to Spain back in November of 1987, there was still some worry that she would get “sticker shock” or balk at my being away for three months instead of six weeks.
Happily, when I mentioned the topic of “maybe going to Seville” in September of 1988, Mom was more enthusiastic, especially after my application was accepted by the Foreign Language department at Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus, and the overall CCIS Program coordinators in the U.S. and Spain.
She also stuck up for me when a nosy but well-meaning family friend suggested that I should not participate in the study abroad program because of my disability (I have a mild case of cerebral palsy) and the distance between Mom and me, separated by the wide expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean.
I wasn’t present when the conversation between Norberto, the Cuban husband of my mom’s “bestie” at the time, and Mom took place a few days before my flight to Madrid – the first leg of my travels to Seville – was due to depart. She told me about it – with no small amount of irritation – a few days after I came home in December of 1988.
According to my mother, Norberto was more than a bit worried; he was incensed when the topic of my going away to Spain from late September to early January (per the original documentation from the CCIS program) came up in a casual conversation about a week before my scheduled flight (6:30 PM on September 21, 1988).
“I can’t believe you’re letting Alex go to Spain by himself,” Norberto said.
“Why? He’s 25 years old. He’s an adult. He goes to college on his own every day. He even walks to the International Mall when he doesn’t want to take the Metrobus or get a ride from his friends.”
“He has a physical impediment,” Norberto said. “What if something happens? He’s going to be 3,000 miles away, and it’s not like you can hop on an Iberia flight to be by his side.”
“He’ll be fine. Besides, Alex has traveled alone before, and even though he has never been to Spain before, he is responsible and smart enough to cope on his own. And he’ll be in a group with other college students.”
Mom told me that Norberto was still mad at her over her decision to “allow” me to go on my own as if I were a helpless child. She didn’t care. She knew that even though I’d get homesick and that I might not always have good days in Seville, the benefits of a study abroad experience outweighed the “what-ifs.” Besides, Norberto was not my parent, she was. I wanted to go, so she wanted me to go as well, although those three months were the longest separation we endured while Mom was alive.
This, Dear Reader, was my mom in a nutshell.
I loved her in life. Dearly. I still do, even though she has been gone for seven years.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you. And I miss you.
 The figure I usually cite when I discuss how much my Semester in Spain experience cost Mom and me 34 years ago is approximately $3,000 ($7,526.83 in 2022 dollars), which included the costs of housing, 15 academic credits’ worth of tuition, books, and various activities. I think we ended up spending close to $5000, though, including the cost of the once-weekly collect calls I made to Miami so I could keep in touch with Mom during my three-month stay in Spain.)
2 thoughts on “Musings & Thoughts for Monday, October 17, 2022, or: Remembering Mom on Her 94th Birthday”
I’m sorry that you lost your mother. It’s always tough. My grandmother has dementia and it’s hard watching her health deteriorate. Your mother sounds like she was a wonderful person.
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Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia are among the worst diseases one can suffer. It’s not only cruel to the person who has it, but also to the patient’s loved ones. I’m so sorry that your grandmother has it, too.
Mom was cool. She had a remarkable personality, and she had a kind heart. You would have liked her, I think.
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