Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

Mother’s Day week has always been the week of my mother’s birthday. She will be 90 years old on Wednesday, May 6. We are going home to celebrate this weekend. It is an astonishing number: 90 years. And most of them were spent in good health, with only a few bumps in the road in her mid-80s, until this past fall, when the real physical decline began.

We are fortunate that Mommie is cognitively fine and still has enormous energy—energy and determination that are a source of wonder and occasional consternation, since it is hard to find projects to keep her from boredom.

Mommie’s health deteriorated seriously last fall, and she was no longer able to live in her own home. She lives now in the Summit Manor Nursing Home in Adair County, Ky., the county where she was born and grew up. Summit Manor is a small and sweet place, well staffed and well managed. Mommie now has many friends who live or visit there, and a loving and supportive relationship with the staff.

I was searching for projects to add to the week, to the ones just not filling the hours for Mommie: reading, painting, quilting, embroidery, exercise classes, visit to the beauty shop, lunch out once a week and church twice. It occurred to me that it would be a great opportunity for Mommie to create a memory book for the other patients, by talking to them and writing down their life stories. This would have been great for her and, I thought, a wonderful gift to family members.

Mommie likes to write. In fact, after her major stroke at age 84 she wrote her own memoir, arranged to have it printed and bound in a local print shop, then caused a scandal by basically forcing people to buy copies at the not insignificant sum of $30. How could anyone refuse to buy the memoir of a still-living 87-year-old woman who was asking them quite directly to purchase it? Madoff should have had such talent.

I have been away from this lovely southern community for a long time. I left when I was 19 and never returned except for visits. I forget that small towns have long memories and that secrets are carefully guarded by sentries of enormous strength and determination. Not bad secrets you understand, just not anyone else’s business. That is how it is in southern small towns. Everyone knows too much about your life already.

Fortunately, I casually asked a relative about this project I envisioned for Mommie. Lord have mercy on me! You would have thought that I was bringing the entire SEC down to every hedge fund on Wall Street. “Patty, I know you have been gone for a long time, but what in the world were you thinking when you came up with this harebrained scheme? You know your Mother, bless her, would like nothing more than to write these memory books for people, and no doubt since she is a writer and knows everybody here, she might even add some things to the story. And what if the old person telling her that life story decided to fix a few grudges at this time of life…can you just imagine the outrage this would cause? And then there is the problem of your Mother’s need to print and sell everything she writes…Patty, this just wouldn’t do.”

Mommie has settled into her routine at Summit Manor. Her six children are grateful that she will not be alone if she falls or has a medical crisis. We know that she is no longer isolated for large parts of the day as she was, inevitably, when she lived alone.

Last week, she had a heart scare. My sister-in-law, Ruth, who lives in Bowling Green, Ky., brought Mommie to visit the wonderful Dr. Gibbs and his fantastic nurse, Brenda, in Bowling Green to find out what to do with the change in her heart rhythm in spite of her new pacemaker. She had developed atrial fibrillation, which means that she was now at a greater risk of a blood clot and another stroke. After a morning of diagnostic tests to look for reasons in the change of the heart rate, Mommie saw the cardiologist Dr. Gibbs in the afternoon. She felt fine she told the doctor. In fact, she said, she felt good enough to dance.

Brenda called me to tell me the news. The rhythm had changed, and the change was probably permanent: There were no more treatments that weren’t too risky. But, she said, “I didn’t call to give you bad news. I called to tell you that your Mama is dancing with Dr. Gibbs up and down the hall here in the office.”

Mommie never misses an opportunity for a bit of a flirtation. And she would never turn down an invitation to dance.

Mothers do teach us many things. Some of them we choose to repeat, and others we decide just aren’t right for us. My mother gave me her determination, her work ethic, her interest in people and projects. And, like her, I certainly never turn down an invitation to dance.

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  • Dottie Martin May 12, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    A woman after my own heart! Does she have an I-Pod? The greatest gaget ever. I love mine and dance in every room of my house.
    I can just see her now!

  • Beth Portnoi Shaw May 9, 2009 at 11:20 am

    If Mommie is half as insightful writer as daughter, put me on the list to buy her memoir (or momoir!)

    What a wonderful project- both for Mommie, and for the town. everyone’s story should be told, and listened to, and learned from! (That is why I photograph!)

    Thanks, always for the wise words to live by.

  • Barbara Thornbrough May 6, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Oh this is the best story about a Mom. She has such heart and is a fine example for all of us to go go go as long as we can. May she have a great time at her birthday. I send this lovely lady a big happy birthday wish. OH– her present from me is: to tell Mom that Patty is a very special lady and a caring and thorough Doctor.
    Cheers, Barbara Thornbrough

  • Natasha Hopkinson May 6, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Please thank your mother and thank you too for teaching us to never turn down an invitation to dance!!!!

  • Willse Elizabeth May 6, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Mommie “caused a scandal by basically forcing people to buy copies at the not insignificant sum of $30. How could anyone refuse to buy the memoir of a still-living 87-year-old woman who was asking them quite directly to purchase it? Madoff should have had such talent.”

    Ha!!! That cracks me up! Cheers and good health to your Mommie, on her birthday and beyond!

  • Betsy Wing May 6, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Dance on!