Thursday, January 9, 2014

Milestones Matter

Today would have been my mother's (Rita Rooney Orr's) 92nd birthday. She died in late 1998, and given that many doctors thought she would die in the 1960s, just being around that long was quite an accomplishment. Living that long with a strong sense of purpose and good sense of humor was an even greater feat.

Her survival (after a 1965 stroke and rapidly progressing multiple sclerosis) was such an achievement that on January 31, 1985 we had an anniversary party, complete with a cake that read, "To Rita--Celebrating Life for 20 years."

Catherine Ellett, Emily Carlin, Rita Orr
Doctors and nurses helped her get to the point that she could leave the hospital, but Rita was around for those twenty years because of the support of family and friends, and we invited several to the party. I don't remember where my aunt and uncle (Marguerite and Clarence Harlowe) were the day of the party, but the two women shown are Catherine Ellett and Emily Carlin.  I can still see my aunt helping my mother get into the car to get her weekly blood test (she was on blood thinners), and still taste the bologna and mustard sandwiches Mrs. Ellett placed in our freezer so I didn't have to pack school lunches for younger siblings. Until that time I did not eat mustard.
Miles Orr serves ice cream at the party.

Mrs. Carlin, our across-the-street neighbor and nurse, was in our house every day for maybe months. Her encouragement and care helped Rita get over many hurdles. And of course Miles Orr, our dad. He had always done more household chores than most husbands of that era, and improvised as needed. You have not lived until you taste spaghetti sauce with kidney beans.

It was day-to-day humor that pulled our family together as a team that focused on progress rather than despair. My sister had a three-foot tall doll that was supposed to be able to walk next to a child. The doll had a ribbon that said, "I walk when you hold my left hand." Dad had that on the wall above mom's head almost as soon as she was home from the hospital. And she did walk again unaided for a couple of years.

We take note of milestones such as graduations, birthdays, and fiftieth wedding anniversaries. Sometimes our greatest accomplishments have to do with handling really tough challenges with grace and courage. Not everything needs a party, but it's worth celebrating meaningful events, even if that celebration is a wink in the mirror. Take heart and keep plugging away.


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