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Oxalis and 50

For as long as I can remember, my mom would buy an Oxalis plant, aka a false shamrock, every year on or near St. Patrick’s Day. As I got older, she would also purchase one for me as a reminder of the events of this time of the year: St. Patrick’s Day, the arrival of spring, and my birthday.

There were a handful of years where she didn’t get it before St.Patrick’s Day, but would give it to me a few days later and add it to my birthday gift. 

Once or twice over the years because of time and distance, she didn’t get it to me at all, but I would still find the one she purchased reaching for the light resting on her crowded plant shelf.

The aging process and an M.S. diagnosis began to change the landscape of my mom’s life over the last decade or so.

Early on, she still managed to get out to buy me this lucky little plant and drop it off before she scurried off to her next destination.  Sooner than she liked, her freedom to drive and flit about like a busy bee began to slip away.

She began to slow down her outings and adventures. In the later part of those years, she may have caused my dad to grumble a bit when she asked told him to rush out and search for the cloverleaf plant. 

In fact, I’m confident that he would grumble under his breath. Yet, the loyal man he was, he would still venture to the store and buy this light-seeking plant.  

Last year was the first year I did not receive an Oxalis. With my mom no longer able to drive and learning to adjust to this new life without my dad as her caregiver, the annual plant was hardly on anyone’s mind. 

Marking moments such as acknowledging and celebrating birthdays in new and different ways was becoming the new norm. In the past, my dad, an early riser, called to sing an out-of-tune “Happy Birthday” as birds were chirping their own morning melody. If the phone didn’t ring, a heartfelt text message chime would greet me as the sun peeked through the cracks in the blinds. No matter, he was always the very first to send birthday love to me and everyone in my house.

Last year was the first birthday without that early call and the first without the Oxalis plant. 

So last year, on my birthday, I took my girls and a few cupcakes to see my mom. It made her smile because she wanted to celebrate my day. Maybe this was to be the new norm–bring her cake to celebrate my birthday. It felt like a great way to honor my mom and remember my dad. After all, they gave me life.

About three weeks ago, a vibrant Oxalis caught my eye while at the supermarket. I smiled and placed it in my shopping cart. At the time, I knew what I was going to do with it.

When I brought it home, I shared with my kids how this plant is a sun worshiper. It thrives in the light, it’s fascinating to watch it always lean toward the light.  

You can rotate it away, but somehow this Oxalis always reaches in the direction of the brightest beam of sunlight. At night, it closes up as if it is beginning to wither away. I guess it just likes to get cozy as it rests –who doesn’t?

In the morning, it stretches back out to let the light shine on its face. Over the last few weeks, we moved it and watched this false shamrock continue to reach for the sun.  

When I bought this light-seeking plant, my intention was to take it to my mom on St. Patrick’s Day. I was going to bring her the plant with some homemade Irish Potatoes. The kids made them as they enjoy showering her with sweet treats.

I think the older we get (appropriate for today), the more we come to expect the unexpected. As it were, our plans were interrupted. 

Sometimes life turns upside down.  

Last week, I scurried about gathering supplies for my mom and my own house from many barren store shelves. In anticipation of the unknown, I took the supplies out to her the very next day. 

As I was leaving from my quick visit, I overheard whispers and rumblings of the senior living facility, limiting visitors very soon. The timeline on this was uncertain, but it was sure to come. 

On my drive home, I found myself feeling grateful my “just in case” approach to things got these supplies to her in time. For a moment, gratitude switched to sadness. Since my dad has left us, grief has proven to rise up out of nowhere. 

I look up to realize I am passing the entrance to my parent’s old neighborhood. In this home, my dad loyally and valiantly tried to be a good caretaker for my mom until he no longer could care for himself. 

The weight of the world, the distance and time, grief, and loss, memories flooded back at this unexpected moment. But like the Oxalis, I was looking for the light. With my eyes fixed on gratitude, I thanked God my dad would not need to navigate such a time as this.

My mom now lives in an apartment of a senior living facility where she is safe and able to navigate mostly well.  She is even doing her own laundry again!  But for now, just like most senior care centers around the country, visits are suspended until further notice. 

Understandably, this is for the health and safety of our precious aging, undeniably it can be hard on many hearts. 

Yesterday, as I waited in the car, my husband dropped a few new things off at the desk of her protected building. His temperature was taken, and he was asked several questions about the status of his travel and possible exposure.  The current new normal.

As I waited outside, I texted my mom. I told her we were dropping off these items at the desk. Knowing she may not be able to see us for a short bit, she rushed down to try to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. 

She scurried through the front door to say hi to me. As she did, she was followed by a staff member to “guard” her from approaching my car.  

From the front seat of my car and a very safe distance, I waved and smiled as she stood at the entrance. She leaned over her walker as she waved back. She yelled out to thank me for the things we brought to her.  

As a hugger, a connector, a person who never hides an expression of love, it felt unnatural to depart from my mom this way. Given I didn’t expect to see her face or her aging smile, it felt like a small gift. Still, at that moment, she felt so far away.  

Earlier in the day, she texted me, “Tomorrow is your birthday.” Then she sent me a few Bitmojs (I barely know how to do this) and several more happy birthday messages. I reminded her again, “Mom, tomorrow is my birthday.” I giggled to myself.  

When I got home, I realized I never took the plant to her. It was proudly raising its clover-like leaves toward the sun — trying to catch all of the light. 

In my heart, I know she really didn’t need it. I am confident I needed it more.

Today seemed like a good day to share this story. Perhaps, I could give you 50 (wink, wink) reasons why.  

We are more than halfway through the day, I have received a multitude of texts from my mom detailing her day. Not one has included a birthday wish. I am glad I kept the Oxalis to remind me of my mom and dad’s never-ending birthday love. 

On this Feast Day of my patron Saint Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus, I will leave you with this quote.

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