What Mom would want most for her little brother

What Mom would want most for her little brother

For many years I collected an array of special gifts for his birthday. Sometimes I filled a basket with cooking items, like specialty olive oil, fancy salad dressings, an exotic spice or a bottle of nice wine.

But this year he won’t be there to receive my gifts.

Uncle Don loved his birthday, any birthday in fact. He loved a big hunk of cake with lots of icing. That was the main reason.

“Give me an end piece, Les,” he always said after he drove 90 miles to help my kids blow out their candles. In return I made a big deal out of his birthday.

We usually met at Mom’s room at Shepherd of the Valley Nursing Home in recent years. The amazing thing is no matter how old she got, she always knew her brother. In her mind I became the nice lady who decorated her room. My sister, she often referred to as Mary, her lifelong friend, or Pearl, a neighbor my mom really liked.

But Don, he was simply Donnie, her baby brother, the one she washed the tub after when he bathed as a boy, the one she bought extra-special Christmas gifts for as a child, nine years her junior. She always put lotion on his hands when he was a kid dealing with eczema too. To hear her talk, even when he was in his 80s, she worried about him like she always had.

After all, Mom lost a little brother, Ralph, at 2 when she was only 7. She lost her sister Elaine when she was 15, and her sister was only 15 months. That changed my mother. She became a caretaker of all children. She still would be if her legs worked and if her mind was still set in the here and now instead of way back when. But ironically, she never forgot Don.

Mom is now 100 and has struggled with vascular dementia for some years. She has forgotten Dad, her husband of 59 years. She never forgot her son Ralph. I guess she has a thing for brothers. She lost my brother Richard when he was 8 months old. My sister, then 2, simply called him “Brother.”

One day last autumn on a 75 F day, Mom told me on FaceTime that my brother Ralph was caught in a snowstorm and couldn’t get his car out of a drift. She said they dug out that car for four hours. Never mind the fact that the sun was shining like a summer day, that the leaves were glistening red, brown, yellow and orange. Never mind we hadn’t seen snow in a good seven months and that my brother has lived in Texas for over 40 years. I didn’t dare tell her otherwise. After all, I am the nice lady who decorates her room.

Yes, this Aug. 24 would have been uncle Don’s 91st birthday. I’m grateful Mom is unaware of his passing. In her mind she is a teenager who walks to Woodrow Wilson High School, soon to be a graduate of the Class of 1941. She thinks her parents and brothers still live on Humbolt Avenue, the home where they grew up, the home where I spent my first 10 years. I often think if that were true, my grandparents would be 124 and 126.

Uncle Don knew all this and sometimes laughed kindly at her confusion. I never realized how much he helped my sister and me face our mother’s health issues for the last 10 years until he became sick in 2020. He was there for every hospitalization. Whenever I visited Mom, I invited him and my aunt to join me, week after week in the summer, a little less frequently during winter. He was always there.

I miss his kind counsel when Mom does not know me, is unable to talk or tells the aide I am a stranger. Under those circumstances, uncle Don would slide his chair up to her bedside and say, “Hey Sis, this is Leslie, your daughter. Please say hi to her. She drove a long way.” And Mom often did as she was told.

I’ve told you a number of stories about my godfather, especially since he passed away last March. I can certainly say the world is a much scarier place for me since he has gone. My cousins and sister echo that sentiment. I just hope he is at peace now, perhaps with his parents and siblings. And I hope on his birthday he has a nice big piece of cake with extra icing.

That’s what Mom would want most for her little brother.

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