Saturday, May 8, 2010

Five for Ten: Notes on Courage

First, I'd like to say, I am nervous to be participating in this Five for Ten. I am brand new to blogging; I've only done one post. I'm not sure I'm fully setup from a technical perspective. Add to that the fact that there are so many experienced, well-written bloggers and it becomes a very intimidating situation. I've never considered myself a writer, but something about this Five for Ten is compelling me to push my boundaries - to put myself out there and just see what happens. I think that says "courage" right there, but that is not what I want to write about.

Because it was just Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother. I think about how she molded me, helped make me the person that I am today – for good and bad. I am strong because I needed to be, to deal with her. She wasn’t evil. She didn’t abuse me. And, it's not about blame.

My mom was a sickly person. All through my childhood, she routinely was hospitalized. Most of the time it was due to a cold settling into her chest causing significant respiratory problems. She'd end up ICU, on a respirator, usually for weeks.

I don't have a lot of clear memories from childhood doing fun, kid stuff, but I seem to recall visits to the hospital with ease. When she was on a respirator, they had to keep her heavily medicated so she wouldn’t fight the artificial breathing. The sad part was that being doped up all the time, she had a horrible memory. Every day my sister and I made our way to the ICU and every day when she saw us pop through the door, she immediately started crying. Unable to speak (tough with a big tube stuck down your throat) she eventually communicated being upset because we hadn’t visited her. But we had. We did every day. And, every day it was the same routine. Routine or not, expected or not, it was hard. Hard to see her with all the tubes. Hard to see her so upset. Hard to see her disappointed in you. Hard to go back the next day knowing it was going to be the same.

My sister and I did a good job of “being strong”. It would only make my mom more upset if she saw that we were upset too. One time the nurses were supposed to grab us and not allow us to go in – a procedure went awry. It was bad. Being experts at navigating the bowels of the hospital, we slipped in unnoticed only to discover that it really was bad. Apparently a resident doctor stuck an IV tube down her neck and punctured her lung. To fix this, with no anesthetic at all, they had to shove a tube between two ribs and create a vacuum so she could breathe. From what I understand, that’s one of the most painful procedures. And we could tell. She just sat there and cried and pleaded with us to make it stop hurting, to help her. Of course we were helpless. It was awful. My sister and I took turns going out into the hallway to sob, regain composure and then come back in with our fake smile and feeble, ineffective attempts to provide her comfort.

Life wasn’t always like this though. She had her good days – even good years. There were times when I forgot she was sick. Moving 3,000 miles away probably helped with that. My mom was present at the birth of my first two boys. She was a grandma to my kids and we’d go back and visit for some holidays. It seemed relatively normal, like what you'd expect for a textbook mother-daughter relationship. And then one day at the beginning of January, husband shows up at work. I think it’s a surprise lunch date, but it’s not. My mom had passed that morning and he came to pick me up.

Everything about the whole ordeal over the next week or two was odd and hazy. My husband got us on a flight. My father, sister and I made preparations. We went through the motions. We got things done. It wasn’t hard picking out her clothes, or the flowers, or the casket. It wasn’t hard going through the required pleasantries, and we made sure there were plenty of cocktails and some chips and dip. There was, however, one excruciatingly difficult moment and it took every ounce of courage for me to do what I needed to do. I had to see her. Finding that strength proved difficult. All the preparations prior were background tasks. Seeing her was undeniable. It made it real and permanent. It could not be undone. Facing death, for me, is the ultimate in courage.
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