What our mothers are made of

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.

-Balzac

So, everyone in my family is attempting to be svelte and strong about something that’s happening to my mom. Well, for starters, my mom has her game face on. My dad is trying to keep his cool by hanging on to his default defense mechanism, denial. My brother is his son, so he will most probably handle it the same way, with minimum immediate response but maximum internalization. My sister is a million miles away and has a hurricane to survive in New York City and I need to get a grip and get over my own sadness, not to mention, crappy immune system so I can be there for her. I mean, this is my mom. She is the pillar, the beacon, the one we pick on the most and has survived all our crap; this can’t be happening to her. Anybody but her. Admittedly, we have a complicated relationship and I am her biggest bully but when my dad called me the other day to tell me that they found out, through an eye check up, that one of her arteries was clogged, that she was a candidate for a heart attack and that she would be needing an angioplasty right away, I cried after I put the phone down.

I have never seen my mom sick. Aside from the occasional cold or sore throat, my mom has an immune system made of steel. She doesn’t even know what a headache feels like. The image I have of my mom and disease figures with my mom by the side of a hospital bed, taking care of people to full recovery. Never her, watching an elevated 14″ TV, under cheap, thin, starchy-white bedsheets, picking at pale, bland chicken breast on a lime green cafeteria tray. From my grandmother, to my dad’s triple bypass and me and my damaged goods (cancer, migraines, blood infection, appendectomy, etc.), she has selflessly and happily nursed many of us back to recognizing ourselves. But her, sick in a hospital bed? Thinking about it, I can’t help but become emotional. It’s too foreign a concept and too mind numbing to consider because illness and my mom, it just never mixed.

Even if it’s true, it’s painful to realize that our parents are getting older. The idea that the people who have been there from the very beginning, people who know you and you have known literally all your life, might go ahead and let you live on this earth without them sooner than later, is scary and heart wrenching. I remember a classmate of mine in 2nd grade, Reggie, a mean, skinny, chinky-eyed boy, who loved to torture me in two ways: one, by writing me inane love letters and two, after being rejected by me several times, insisted that one day I would go home from school and find both my parents dead. I remember him passing me scribbled notes in class to tell me this or whispering it to me when the teacher was writing something on the blackboard. It was terrible and traumatizing, and not something you tell a seven year old. I found myself quietly whimpering in my seat at the last row in the back of the room for days and denying anything was wrong when the teacher asked if everything was all right. I was afraid if I said what Reggie whispered to me aloud, it would come true. So I suffered silently, as he bullied me into believing him. It was my first taste of the despair that comes with the threat of abandonment. And the stupid thing was, I wasn’t sure how to refute him. All I knew was that the thought of my parents dying was unbearable. After a lot of reassurance though, that my parents weren’t going anywhere, that they weren’t going to spontaneously keel over and die on us in the mall one Sunday afternoon, that I could stop occasionally holding my finger under their noses while they slept to see if they were still breathing, I learned to not think about my parents dying on a daily basis. I learned to function without this fear and moved on. But deep down, somewhere only accessible to the subconscious, lie the whispers of that mean, jilted boy. I don’t know if I’ve ever really gotten over the trauma of wondering what it’s like to live my life without my parents walking the same earth.

Which brings me here, I guess. It’s been two days since we’ve known that my mom needs this procedure and since I’ve started writing this entry. I’ve been staring at a blank screen, literally and in my mind, for days, a kind of meditation, to arrive at the right words because it’s hard to write about difficulty and the emotions that come with it when you are in the middle of it. At this point however, I’ve chosen to (wo)man up and not be a sissy about the whole thing. Early detection is a blessing and I am grateful that my mom can make this decision, have the resources and take preventive measures for her health. That’s just awesome. Thanks, G, for reminding me to see the bigger picture.

I am also hit by the realization that I am surrounded by friends and loved ones who have lost a/both parent/s due to a debilitating disease, old age, tragic accident, and I am inspired by their strength and courage right now. They didn’t default to some old trauma to justify escape when faced with loss, they all handled grief with love, grace and elegance. I am grateful for them as they modeled behavior I want to emulate. I really have no right to complain about this pain because it’s nothing compared to what some of them had had to go through. So today, after two days of wallowing in my pity party, I am choosing to be grateful for the opportunity to be there for my mom. To be the one she can count on and be the pillar by her bedside. To egg her on to full recover as she reclaims a clog-free artery. And to hold my dad’s hand through it. Because among all of us, he is probably the biggest wreck of all.

She won’t expect it but that’s okay. I’ve surprised her with my sh*t before.

Anyway, right now, my mom is doing all right. She looks good, is mentally preparing for the procedure scheduled to take place on Wednesday provided nothing else shows up in her angiogram. She was still able to cook up a storm and fiddle with her laptop yesterday, which is a good thing. And overall, things felt normal in their house during my Sunday visit even if I know they are no longer the same.

So, to our mothers. May we celebrate them everyday. Remember them at their best (read: silliest), love them at their weakest, make them laugh as often as we can and may we aspire to be the women they hoped for us to be and minimize letting them down.

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And finally, this poem is for you, mom. I carry your heart with me, wherever I go because it is your heart that has taught me about a mother’s forgiveness. Unconditional, unending, incessant and pure. Thank you. Keep your game face on. Everything is going to be all right.

i carry your heart with me by e e cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

grateful slice: my mom

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5 comments

  1. Jitendra Pandey

    This is an amazing amazing piece of writing Paula. I just sat reading it crying in my office and missing my mom. All my life I have just taken her for granted assuming that she will be there come what may. But I forget to acknowledge how much she means to me. Your article was an eye opener for me.

  2. Ms. P

    Thanks so much for your lovely comment, my friend. It’s been an emotional weekend but look, it’s not yet too late for some of us. Go call your mom and tell her you love her. 🙂 hugs.

  3. Pingback: What our mothers are made of | Kids say :
  4. jaya

    Paula I am not much of a writer so will not be able to express my thoughts but you made me cry.I love being a daughter to my mom but miss being a mom to a daughter.take care.all my prayers and good wishes with your mom

    • Ms. P

      Hi Jaya. Thanks you for your comment and for passing by. My mom is doing all right and should be home by Friday. So, great news all around. Appreciate the well wishes! Take care. 🙂

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