Recently, my nephew David called my sister and me. He asked us if we could get Dad to the Gainesville Botanical Gardens at 11:00 on Saturday. His story was that he was flying in from Orlando and wanted to surprise Dad for his 85th birthday. What he didn’t tell us was that he wasn’t the only one.
Yesterday, I went to pick up Melinda and Dad from his place under the ruse that we were going to pick up a birthday cake, so we could celebrate his birthday when we visited Mom. She loves it when we come with cake and hats! On the way to the “bakery,” we had a woman from the Botanical Gardens call on the car speaker to say, “We found your husband’s phone.” I told her I would come by since I was in the area. Then I conversed, as I was driving, a made up story about how Bill had gone to do errands on Friday, one of which was to buy our yearly pass to the gardens. I told Dad all about how we had called each place he had been to try to locate the phone and how relieved I was that it had been found. It was a believable story. It happens all the time at our house, but let me tell you, lying to your dad, even when it is something so common, is not easy…at least not for me…but I pulled it off.
When we arrived at the gardens, Melinda said she’d like to go in and check out the gift shop thinking Dad would come in with her. But he said he wanted to stay in the car because he was worried we weren’t going to make it back in time to see Mom. (We had already told them we wouldn’t be coming until later in the afternoon…but Dad didn’t know that!) When we were walking across the parking lot I said to Melinda, “What do we do now?” She said, “I left my purse in the car. I’m going to call him and tell him I found something in the gift shop to get for Mom and have him bring it in.” Have I ever mentioned how brilliant my sister is?
When dad came in carrying the purse, we could see the impatience on his face, but we had gotten him to the appointed place at the appointed time! When we walked in, there was an even bigger surprise awaiting! Not only David, but all 8 other grandkids and their spouses were there!! Let’s just say the tears flowed and there were hugs all around! All the kids were together!
Somehow, David had pulled off getting all the grandkids from all over the country, to Georgia at the same time. I don’t know how many years it has been since all of them have been in one place. It was like an August miracle! Just having all of my own kids in the same room was enough to start the waterworks for me. It’s been nearly three years since our family has all been together. Add in all the others and it was a magical moment.
When we came in, they all said, “Surprise!” And was it ever! In that moment Dad understood we had fooled him and it all made sense. One at a time, each grandkid stepped up and gave him a bear hug. Many tears were shed. He just couldn’t get over that they were ALL there and was blown away that they would all drop everything to celebrate him. He was truly astounded.
Much to our delight, there was a catered lunch planned and we had a private room for 3 hours just to be together. David knows how to plan a party! There was laughter. There were pictures taken. There were presents, balloons, cards and all things birthday. It was a joyous day. As we meandered around the gardens after lunch, I thought what an appropriate place to have a party for Dad. Beautiful flowers and nature everywhere. It is one of his favorite places to go to relieve the pressures of caregiving, usually with camera in-hand instructing and imparting photography wisdom to grandkids. It was the perfect choice. As caregivers to the caregiver, Melinda and I were so grateful the kids did it all without us planning anything…or even knowing anything! It was a huge blessing to us as well!
Later, back at Mom’s place, we took turns as family groups visiting her. We introduced ourselves and our children to her. She smiled and was happy to have so many visitors. Before we left, she even counted each one. She was talkative and, as usual, not much of what she said made sense. Our stay was short so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed. The progression of changes in her seemed drastic for the ones who hadn’t seen her since before the pandemic started. No more stop and start conversations. No more recognition. No more connection. Her eyes looking but not really seeing. Because of this, the goodbyes were poignant. No one knew when, or if, they would see her again. The reality of the situation cut through the smiles. Dad cried more tears as each group said their goodbyes. Then he breathed deep, smiled, waved, and pushed Mom back inside.
I cannot tell you how much it meant to have all the grandchildren show up for him at this time. His daily burden is so heavy. Walking under the load of it weighs him down. The light (and tears) in his eyes when he was hugging each one spoke volumes. He was clinging to their life and letting some of it pour into him. They are his legacy. On this day, he got to wrap himself up in a blanket of their love, and he got a few hours of respite to be the one cared for instead of the caregiver.
Today, some of the grandkids are meeting him for breakfast before they fly out again. It has been 24 hours of reconnecting with each other and with Grandpa. I know my step is a lot lighter today and my smile comes more quickly having had a few hours with all of them. Mom, if she was coherent would be thrilled that they did this for Dad’s 85th milestone birthday. She would be proud of them for thinking of it and she would want him to be celebrated. In fact, she would have planned the whole thing herself if she could’ve. Her love language of hospitality has been passed on to the next generation and expanded. What a blessing for us all!
Happy 85th Grandpa! Happy birthday Dad!!