I spent the day in the hospital with my mother yesterday. I haven’t been able to write about it because the fear of the possibilities was too great to process, too much emotional weight to bear. I am not nearly prepared for the distinct possibility that my mother is, in fact, mortal. Actually I’m fairly certain that somewhere along the way, I was promised that she isn’t.
We sat in a favorite coffee shop over fancy sandwiches and hot tea one month ago, and I knew from the badly-disguised urgency of her tone an hour before on the phone, that this was something important. My body went numb, of course, when she told me. It often does when you hear the word cancer, in any context at all.
I took comfort in the fact that the doctor didn’t feel the need to rush her into surgery; I replayed this fact over and over every day for the last several weeks.
Today, I am delighted, relieved, thrilled, overwhelmed beyond any adjectives I have to describe it, to learn that what could have been a very big something is a big nothing at all; with little more than a narrow scar to show for the surgery. Well, that and a semi-shell-shocked family, grateful that we once again have the ability to exhale fully.
I’m also stunned that it took my stepfather until now to have a good reason to learn to text on those newfangled phone thingies. He sent four. We’re proud of him.
The strange thing is, sitting in the waiting room for hours with he and my brother, all we could think about was her–whether she’d be okay, what it would mean for her, how we simply aren’t ready for our strong matriarch to show a single example of fragility. This is a woman who, at 70, can bench press me under the table, wrangle four granddaughters at once, and reinvent herself with an entirely new career. “You’re not going anywhere,” I reassured her many times.
It was clear how I felt. But it wasn’t until yesterday, at discharge, that I saw something entirely new from her perspective.
While we were saying good bye, squeezing her knee under the hospital sheets, making jokes about the extra-vivid fuchsia streak in her white hair, I stayed to have a brief moment alone with her by her bedside.
I expected a thank you and a goodbye.
“I’m so glad I have more time to see you blossom, flourish, grow,” she said softly, through the fading narcotic haze.
I squeezed her hand back–so hard–and saved the stinging tears until my back was turned and the elevator doors in my sight.
Isn’t that the very definition of a mother’s love? That even your middle-aged daughter is someone you still see as growing–and you don’t want to miss a moment of it? Even now? Even all these years later, after the memories of maternity gowns, baby booties and nighttime feedings are such distant memories they hardly seem real at all?
Isn’t that what we all hope for as we grow older and our children become the adults we hope they’ll be?
If I can offer one suggestion: Hug your parents today. If you can’t hug your parents, call them and tell them you love them. If I have any regrets 40 years from now about my relationships with my family (and no doubt I will), at least it will not be that I never told them that I loved them. Every chance I could get.
Those words–those amazing twelve words. I will have them in my heart forever.
And the best part is, now I get to continue to watch her continue to flourish and bloom and grow too.