Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 14, 2014

A unique and inspiring gift

— — At first, she didn’t know what to think of the birthday cards that started showing up, addressed to her at the nursing home in which she lives. So many people from her past and others who were complete strangers — it was a little bit overwhelming, surprising, and, possibly, unnerving. Dealing with poor health as she was, she wasn’t feeling very much like celebrating, anyway.

“I wasn’t too excited about turning 90,” Mary Louise Taylor admitted to me. “I was excited about having my new body and dancing with Jesus.”   

But the birthday greetings kept coming. Finally, she asked one of her daughters, Sara Rubens, about the cards piling up. Sara confessed that she and her sister who lives in Idaho had decided there wasn’t much they could buy for their mother, so they came up with this idea: 90 birthday cards for her 90th birthday. The two sisters contacted their own friends, their mother’s friends, and long-lost family friends.

“Literally anyone we could think of, and had their contact info, we called, emailed and Facebooked, and asked them to spread the word, too,” said Sara, who applied sneaky tactics to obtain information. “One day, while my mom was away from her phone book, I quickly wrote down a bunch of numbers from her speed dial.”

Sara started calling some of the folks from their family’s past. “At first, I think they were afraid I was calling to tell them she had died! But after I explained my project they were all so happy to participate, and they spread the news, too.”

 Once the secret was out, Sara and her mom started opening the growing stack of cards together, because Mrs. Taylor’s eyes are weak and it’s hard to decipher unfamiliar handwriting. Sara could then tell her mother more about each person, especially Sara’s friends who Mrs. Taylor didn’t know as well, and explain how they had intersected with Sara’s life.

“What was so beautiful” Mrs. Taylor began, “was people went out and bought a personal birthday card and wrote a personal message on them. It was as though I was receiving my sweet bouquet of love while I was still alive.”

Mrs. Taylor says it became a blessing for many, as the nurses in the nursing home got involved and helped her keep track as 90 cards arrived by her 90th birthday — and a total of 117 eventually showed up.  

“It has really renewed me,” said Mrs. Taylor. “I’ve got a lot more joy in my life than I had before this.”

Sara calls it the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did it refresh Mrs. Taylor’s spirit but now she is offering her own gift back to each person. They’ve put the cards in a box and every day Mrs. Taylor takes one out, re-reads it (“...now I know what to expect and I can enjoy more what they’ve written”) and then she prays for the sender.

“Our mother has a deep faith,” adds Sara, “and this is a wonderful way for her to celebrate the legacy of faith and joy she has shared with others all of these 90 years.”

So she is sending out prayers for those who sent her cards: dozens of loved ones, some friends from years past, some strangers, and many from faraway places — San Francisco, Washington State, New Mexico and the Republic of Cyprus.

“I love the fact that my mom was able to hear from so many of my friends, about how much they love me, and (they) praised her for raising me like she did,” said Sara. “I also love the fact we sat and read the cards together, and I could explain to her how I knew this person ... and of course, the fact she now prays for these people daily.”

Before this 90 card project, Mrs. Taylor was a little bit annoyed by her life.

She was in the nursing program at the University of Virginia and says all her roommates and fellow graduates entered at 18, as she did, and are also now 90 years of age. “We are all 90 and they are still in their own homes and driving and I get a little envy about that,” she confessed, “but I have to accept that this is where I am right now. Sara found me this beautiful place and I’m so safe and getting such care.”

A simple project turned into an uplifting and inspiring gift and Sara thought maybe it was an idea others might want to borrow and use to mark a milestone for their own loved one. Her mom, always a fan and supporter, says her daughter should promote the idea to Hallmark — and see if she can get a bunch of free cards.

Mrs. Taylor says as she approached this birthday, she thought, ‘Yeah, I’m 90 — so what?’ But, after being celebrated this way, she says, “It’s given me more joy of living, just being present for the day, for the now, and letting go and letting God.”

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who lives in North Carolina with her family. You may contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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