As long as I can remember, my mom has called me at 7:46 AM on every single birthday. That's the precise time when I was born. I remember years when I resented her calling as I was rushing to get to work or was taking advantage of a rare chance to sleep in on a weekend. Then I began to really enjoy the little ritual.
At about 7:15 AM this morning, the phone rang. It was my sister calling to wish me a happy birthday. A few minutes later, my friend Betty was playing a recording of a Mañanita song on the phone to wish me a happy birthday as she had done for all her relatives in Mexico since she was a young girl. Then my friend Risa called from Maryland on my day, even though she had already called me the day before, sent a card, and sent beautiful flowers. The last call came at about 7:50; it was my friend Donna who was calling to confirm our luncheon celebration.
Before long, it was well past 8:00 AM and I realized that this was the first time that my mother's call hadn't come. From a cascade of chronic ailments, my widowed mom has become quite frail over the last year. She is sleeping later herself, and has trouble seeing and pressing the buttons on the phone with her gnarled hands. Even when we do speak by phone, and during our visits which occur several times a week, she often doesn't hear what I'm saying. She managed to have her aide help her call me later in the morning and with some help from my friends, she was able to join us for lunch in her wheelchair. A very social person all her life, she didn't have much to say and picked at her food. Accommodating to age, loss, and disability has been a tough passage for my mom -- and a tough one for me to witness.
Friends help us get over life hurdles, big and little, whatever they may be. Never underestimate how meaningful an "I'm thinking of you" phone call can be on a friend's birthday.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author who blogs about female friendships at HuffPo and www.fracturedfriendships.com. She is a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever, which will be published by Overlook Press