Friday, December 2, 2011

Today is my birthday!

"The woods are deep and dark..."

“Today is a good day!” 

That phrase escaped Helen’s lips as a sigh.  Helen could remember what happened all that day:  breakfast, how good the oatmeal tasted;   and, even the joke her nurse Alice made about Helen’s thick curly white hair.

“Why, you have more hair on your head than I had when I was only twenty!”  They both had laughed.  It was true; even at the age of eighty, Helen had fluffy thick hair that looked like a cloud or a mound of snow.

‘It’s my birthday!  Today!’  The thought occurred to Helen as she moved to the window.  ‘My daughter Maude is coming in a while and she will bring my favorite cake.’  Helen even remembered the phone call she had received from Maude just minutes ago.  ‘It’s my birthday!’

Alice walked to Helen’s side and took her elbow.  “Would you like to sit on the deck, Helen?  It’s a rare lovely day, and Lord knows, we won’t have many more of those when winter moves in on us!”

“Oh, Alice!  I would love that.  Maude will be here shortly, and I want her to see me sitting outside.  To see me enjoying the last leaves.” Helen’s brown eyes sparkled at the thought of Maude coming and finding that today Helen remembered her oldest child.

Alice escorted Helen to the outdoor chairs.  Helen was still vigorous, strong, and often argued with Alice about all the ‘fussing over me—I am not a child, you know…’  Alice spread a pale pink lap quilt over Helen, and told her that Maude would love to see this quilt being used.

The woods before her were filled with leaf-covered paths.  The last golden leafs reminded her of a “yellow brick road” from that movie.  ‘What was it?  Oh, the “Wizard of Oz”…’  Her eyes followed the paths and the bare branches arched over the yellow leaf paths.

Helen used to gather up those leaves into bouquets and give them to her mother, “A last bouquet ‘fore the snows, Mama!”

An idea sparked in her tired brain, and she acted on it.  “A bouquet!  That’s what I’ll have when Maude comes!  She will be so surprised!” 

Her feet moved down the steps and onto the paths, the pale pink quilt slipping to the deck. 

Helen was sure she knew this path, from somewhere.  ‘Oh, yes!  This is the path I always take when I take walks.  Take walks?  Oh, of course.  Mama wants me to get some flowers for the table at dinner.’ 

Helen walked forward into the fog of the days behind her, into the fog that came over her mind.

Hands filled with leaves, Helen sat down on an old fallen log and looked around her.  She was so tired.  Letting herself slide down the side of the log, Helen curled up against it, and laid her head onto the rough bark. ‘I’ll rest here for just a moment.  Mama will be cross if I’m late.’

Snow started falling slowly at first and then built up speed.  Soon the paths, branches, fallen trees, and an old woman with fluffy white hair were covered in a layer that made the world white.

The voices calling ‘Helen!’  went unanswered.  As the day moved into night and the snow grew from a few inches to a solid foot, the voices turned to sobs.

On the table in Helen’s room sat a pink birthday cake.  Maude knew that Helen like the color pink.

 p.s.  This story is based on a true event.  My father's cousin developed Alzheimer's in her later years, and left her caretaker's house. She was found when the snows melted, not too far from her house. 

Alzheimer's is a terrible thief.


  1. Birthdays all the rage at the moment! :0) Yes, I'm losing a friend through this terrible disease. Thanks for the great writing.

  2. Yeah that truly is one of the worst diseases out there. Memories stripping away is almost worse than death, sorta. Great story.

  3. So sad...what a hideous disease that robs you of yourself and robs everyone else of yourself....and so beautifully told.

  4. My greatest fear is not dying, it is dying of Alzheimers.

  5. Dear Susan,
    Your writing in this posting draws us into Helen's world so vividly. Her moments of clarity then lost in the fog. I'm sorry to learn that this actually happened to your father's cousin. Such a poignant story. And tragic.


  6. So sad. So true. However, I took comfort from the fact that she slipped away rather than dying frightened and in pain. Any of the dementia disorders are cruel, more so in many ways to the survivors than the people involved.
    Thank you.

  7. To all who comment here: This woman was a lovely woman who devoted herself to others all of her life. She was active in her church and in missions. Alzheimer's took all that away, and then ultimately her life. If you have a loved one with this insidious disease, my prayers go out to you. Hold onto them as long as you can, and then you have to let them go on ahead of you.
    Thanks for all your comments.

  8. What a beautiful piece - it brought a lump to my throat. It really is a terrifying illness.
    Have a lovely weekend

  9. Oh what a sad story! I can't believe this actally happened to someone. What a horrible disease. Loved your story and how you told it...I could actually see her in my mind.
    Blessings, Joanne

  10. I really related to this story. Ironically, though, I didn't see it as sad, but rather a lovely way for Helen to leave this world, a world that surely confounded her. My mom died of Alzheimer's, so I know how much pain this illness brings. Watching my mom die slowly, shutting down a little more day after day, was more painful, especially for us. She would have rather gone for a walk, if only she could.

    Great focus; powerful story.

  11. How sad, and yet how beautiful. Well written. Though others grieved for her, she went peacefully during a happy memory. I hate Alzheimer's. :(


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