Joan was born April 1, 1940 in Mooers, New York and raised in the neighboring village of Rouses Point, in Upstate New York sandwiched between Vermont and Quebec.
When I was growing up, I’m sure my siblings and I played April Fools Day pranks….sugar in the salt shaker, saran wrap over the toilet seat but I think April Fools Day was mainly known as my mother’s birthday. My dad always bought my mother roses and bought her favorite cake, German Chocolate Cake. Oh wait, that was his favorite cake, my mom hated coconut. One year after my dad died, I went to a bakery to get her a birthday treat. I thought long and hard about what she would like and remembered “ah! German Chocolate Cake!” As soon as I gave it to her I said, “oh shit, that’s what Dad liked.” She thought it was funny and I ate the cake.
My sister Molly had a baby boy in 2008. He was due in March but he waited and showed up on April 1. According to my mother, Matthew John was the best birthday gift she had ever received. That’s tough to believe because I know I once gave her a Snoopy bumper sticker that read, “If you hate how I drive, you should see how I putt!” And God love Joni, she put it on the O’Connor family truckster where it stayed for years.
My mom was sick a lot in 2008. She wouldn’t go to the doctor. She went down to Austin to help Molly with the baby and it became clear there was something very wrong and it wasn’t bronchitis. Joan was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer in June. My sister Katie came home from New York to care for her. Molly and Matt came from Texas. That summer Molly would bring the baby in to sit with my mother as she lay dying in a hospital bed in the room I grew up in. My mother was so filled with regret and guilt over dying but I know she was overjoyed every single time she saw Matt.
Miracle is a big word. I don’t think Matt being born on April 1 was a miracle. He was a gift (and still is). A gift to my mother that she got to meet her only grandson who was born on the same day as she was. A gift of new life and renewal for all of us, a little bundle of true joy for each of us to hold during what was going to be a difficult summer.
One of the worst days of my life happened the day my mother went to Hopewell House. Not because she was moved to a hospice facility; Hopewell House is a peaceful, serene and loving place. She did NOT want to die at home and if Joan didn’t want to do something, she sure as hell wasn’t going to do it and that included dying. The reason it was one of the worst days of my life was that when we got her settled in her room, Katie and I were in saying goodbye to her (not forever just for the day) and she was sleeping so we kissed her and were going to leave and she opened her eyes and looked right at Katie and smiled a beatific smile, I will never forget it. I don’t know if she had ever looked more beautiful than she did in that one smile. Then Mom looked at me and asked where my brother John was and I told her he was at home and then she asked me, “where’s Maggie?”
Oh well, that woman was only who was left of my mother. I know she is in heaven and knows full well who I am and is watching over all of us and proud and I’m sure shaking her head at a lot of it.
This Sunday will be the first time I have ever celebrated Matt’s birthday with him and I can’t believe he will be 4 years old!
Happy April Fool’s Day Angels, the one in heaven and especially the one here on earth.