Ever since my step-father died 5 years ago, I have been my mother's caregiver. Not an easy job for anyone. When I learned I might have cancer, before my biopsy, I planned my mom's 78th birthday present in December 2006. She's wanted to take a Mediterranean Cruise since forever! Well she has been in very poor health for 15 years, with a list of things wrong that could fill a phone book. Infact Mom had just been released from rehab after a recent illness. The Mediterranean will never happen. I found an opportunity that might work for her, so I planned her big birthday surprise.
Rosie O'Donnell was going to christen a ship, The Norwegian Pearl, in Miami. It would be a one night cruise with a show starring Rosie, free food and alcohol, and gambling. All proceeds were going to charity. Even though this was only one night, it needed to be carefully orchestrated. Mom is on an oxygen generator which makes traveling difficult. She uses it mostly when she sleeps or is having a bad day. I emailed the ships Cruise Director, trying to see how to arrange oxygen aboard ship, but no response even after 3 emails and 2 phone calls.
I had to tell mom the surprise to find out how long she thought she could go without her oxygen. She thought one night would be safe. Talk about a gamble! I made the arrangements: a limo to the airport, direct flight to Ft. Lauderdale, a limo directly to the ship in Miami 2 hours before departure. Then after we board, straight to the room to rest. The return had to be just as quick. All this would take place in less than 36 hours, from start to finish. If anything went wrong, even the slightest delay, we were screwed!
It was flawless! When we arrived I ordered mom a wheel chair and with a porter we embarked upon the newly built ship. We made it to our stateroom without a hitch. The handicap cabins are bigger than most because they need to accommodate a wheel chair. So we did not feel cramped like many cruise ship accommodations. In the cabin were gifts from Rosie on our beds: toys, a hat, a stuffed animal, and a whole lot of little items.
We rested before the festivities. Mom wanted to eat and explore the ship. Food everywhere, booze flowing freely, music pounding poolside, and lots of fun people there to party. Just amazing energy. After filling our bellies and tipping a few cocktails we began to explore. Everything was brand new. This was the Pearl's maiden voyage. The ship even had a bowling alley!
We find ourselves in a hall passing a crowded room full of people and a film crew. It was a private party for a meet and greet with Rosie. I think people donated big money to attend. We continued to walk down the hall when we came upon a bank of elevators and a grand staircase, away from the private event. We were a bit lost trying to get our bearings. I was facing the hall looking back where we had just been, and mom was facing me looking in the opposite direction.
All of the sudden a bull run was upon us. Mom had no clue what was about to happen since she had her back to the entourage of about 30 people. Loud, boisterous, moving quickly with cameras rolling, Rosie was headed towards us leading the pack. Now picture a frail, grey haired, 78 year old woman with a walker, alone in the hall with her son, standing directly in the path of this steamrollering crowd. I thought she was toast!
Then it was like someone hit the pause button. Rosie was standing behind Mom and her group of followers went silent. I'm in front of mom facing Rosie. Calmly I said, "Ma, turn around." Mom looked puzzled as if to say, "Why?"
As she wheeled her walker around, Rosie put out her hand and very calmly, lovingly, with great care, in almost a whisper said, "Hello Mam. What's your name?" Mom was shocked as she shook Rosie's hand. It took her a moment to process it. I just stood and grinned as I watched it all unfold. The entourage was silent. They were half on the staircase and half behind Rosie, cameras rolling, as Mom and Rosie chatted.
Mom told her it was her 78th birthday. Rosie asked if she was going to the show later that night. Mom said, "Wouldn't miss it. Are you going to be funny?" Rosie grinned and said, "Since it's your birthday, I'll try to be funny just for you!" As they chatted my eyes scanned the crowd. On the staircase was Rosie's wife Kelli. Our eyes met and we both had huge grins on our faces. I think we were both thinking, "What a very precious moment." Then as fast as they arrived, the crowd disappeared up the staircase and we were alone once again in the hall, still not knowing exactly where we were on the ship. I had this very strange feeling like...What just happened?
We went back to the cabin to rest before the show, as the ship began to set sail. We weren't in the room very long when mom said, "Let's go stand in line to get a good seat." We have over 2 hours before the show! We both are in poor health. We can't stand in line for two hours! Then out the door mom went.
That woman, walker and all, made her way to the theater and was 4th in line! There was no way I could stand in line that long, so I waited in the casino for awhile as the line grew longer. I tried to explain to Mom, when I picked up the show tickets, I was told the handicap section was one level above us. Mom didn't want to hear it. She was going in the main entrance and that was that! As she stood in line people were chatting about Rosie and Mom proudly announced, "I've met her and she said she was going to be funny just for me." She was like a child that had just met Santa for the first time.
When the doors opened, I gasped, there were at least 40 stairs cascading to the front of the theater as Mom bolted down to get as close to the stage as she could. It was like watching a senior citizen/NASCAR/roller derby. I swear she had smoke coming from the wheels of her walker as she made her way down those stairs! If anybody tried to pass her, she cut them off. All I kept saying was, "I'm sorry, she's a little excited" to everyone as I cringed out an embarrassing grin. She made it to the second row and sat down. I was only half way there and all I kept thinking was, "How the hell is she going to get back up all those stairs?"
The show was great, Christmas themed with Broadway numbers, Rosie popping out of a giant gift box dressed as Santa to a musical number. Rosie did her comedy...just for Mom if you asked her! Mom was having a grand time. She was energized.
And then it happened. I saw a side of my mother I've never been exposed to. One of the Broadway reviews had young men dancing on stage dressed in skin tight black spandex pants. My mother began to bounce in her seat. She turned to me and announce, "Look at the buns on those boys!" It was like I had taken her to a strip club. I wasn't sure if I should break out some singles for her or rope her to her seat to stop her from rushing the stage with her walker. Normally I wouldn't be worried, but after witnessing her new found roller derby skills, I was a bit concerned or maybe just embarrassed...LOL
At the end of the show there were streamers, confetti, and small stuffed animals shot into the crowd. Mom grabbed onto some streamers. I caught her an animal and the show was over, Mom beaming ear to ear!
Then came the moment of truth, my horror I worried about. How are we getting her out of here? Those 40 steps seemed like a 1000. Mom took hold of that walker and went up those stairs almost as quickly as she went down, without the body checking this time. She made it to the top adorned with red satin streamers she had dressed herself with, clutching her new stuffed animal. All smiles, it was an amazing site. She had more energy that night then I have ever seen her have!
After the show I figured she was going to get something to eat and go to bed. This had been a long day and she was without her oxygen. Mom had other plans...right into the casino. I gave her a few hundred bucks and she hit the slots. A few hours of one arm bandits and she was ready to retire. Her stuffed animal had multiplied. She now had a collection them. A ginger bread man dangled from her walker. Some of the people Mom met gave her their animals after Mom explained she was on the cruise for her birthday.
Mom was too tired to go eat, so I ordered room service. We ate in our cabin and then I tucked her in for the night like a little child surrounded by her new stuffed family. She repeated the entire day's events to me and just before she fell asleep she said, "See if we can book a week long cruise next time, I think I can handle it." The bigger question was...could I!?
Morning arrived, the ship now back to the port of Miami, we began to pack up all the gifts that She had collected and those that Rosie had left in the room. Mom said, "Next time, tell Rosie to leave you something." She had claimed all the gifts for herself. I didn't even get a hat! Oh well.
In less than 36 hours mom had survived, two flights, four limo rides, a Broadway style Christmas show, drinking, gambling, roller derby while climbing every mountain, acting like a teenager at a stip joint, and meeting Rosie. Now she was tucked in her own bed back on oxygen with all her new found toys and wonderful memories. Happy Birthday Mom!
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