The twinkling lights from the garland strung across the door way to my kitchen left a golden haze over the dining room, which was packed with people; they were friends and relatives I’d invited over for surprise 65th birthday party for my mother. Throwing the bash wasn’t my idea, it was my father’s. I must admit, I hesitated to say yes. The reason: I was recovering from a severe cold that left me bedridden for days. It was the latest blow after spending months learning to walk normally again following procedures to correct problems with my back, possibly caused my autoimmune disorder of connective tissue. Financially, the cost of the party was going to stretch my already limited budget that was strained by medical payments for years of treatment for my chronic condition and surgeries. Also, I was just plain tired. Yet, I relented and sent out the text invited that brought everyone to my town home.
I’d laid out the champagne flutes to toast the woman who’d not only given me life but who took care me throughout my lymphoma scare, stomach surgeries, back procedures, two strokes and countless other debilitated episodes. Once the Prosecco was poured I picked up the birthday cake I purchased for her from Magnolia bakery and lit the candle. A rousing chorus of happy birthday broke out as I walked towards my mother with the cake.
I glanced over at the woman, who less than 24 hours before was at my father’s hospital bedside as he suffered another seizure, and I was grateful I was able to make her smile. As she blew out her candle, my nephew asked if she had a wish. She said, “No I don’t have a wish. I have everything I need.” In that moment, I felt as if I did too; I had joy.
When I turned to put the cake on the table to slice it, my father, who had checked himself out the hospital a few hours earlier, stepped forward with his champagne glass. He said, “Wait, Nika, this party wasn’t for your mother’s birthday at all.” Stunned and confused, I sat down on the edge of the sofa and listened as he said, “this party was for you. Raise a glass to my daughter’s friends. She is blessed to have the love and support of great people.” As his words hung in the air, my friend Kiada emerged from behind him, “there is a card and a gift.”
I peeled opened the card and read notes from nearly everyone in the room. I then extended my hand and took a tiny bag from her. With my brow furrowed, I unwrapped the tissue paper covering a piece of paper. I could barely hear Kiada speaking as I stretched the piece of paper out until it was flat enough for me to see it was a check. Kiada said, “I started a go fund me page, http://gofundme.com/s45tcfj8 and all of your friends chipped in to let you know that we love you.”
“What are talking about?” I exclaimed. “I had no idea. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. You know in the last two years I thought, at times, I might not see another birthday. It’s been long; it been a long road but I’m still here. Thank you all.”
I stared at the figure on the check and wondered how many people decided to help ease my burden and why they would do that for me. I questioned if I was deserving. In my prime, before my illness dictated my every movement, I’d tried to be a good friend, co-worker, sister, cousin and daughter. But, in recent years illness made me more reclusive.
Humbled, I walked back into the kitchen fighting back tears. I thought about how many times I raced down the stairs bright and early on Christmas and was often I’m disappointed because what I wished for wasn’t waiting for me. It wasn’t an item from any store or website. I always hoped for time with those I loved. I wanted phone calls and Christmas cards and letters that let me know that in my darkest and loneliest hours, even on a holiday, I could call any relative or friend and they’d be there. Staring at that check, I knew and now know that’s true. Because of this, I know this Christmas and those that follow will be filled with the peace of knowing I’m not alone on my journey.
Originally published in the Huffington Post: