We begin them. We come to the end of them.
One year ago tonight, the Fella was flying a night sortie. He wouldn’t be home until after midnight. I had a sick young’un who was on the upswing of the bug, and my oldest was supposed to go to a Wesleyan College information night at Bare Bulb Coffee. It had been a week of rearranging plans and cancelling get-togethers. Like you do when one of your babies is sick.
It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work. Aub and I took turns watching the littles in the Blazer in the Bare Bulb Coffee parking lot, sitting and playing games on my cell phone with the heat on. Somehow we got questions answered, met the Provost, found out about Scholarship weekend, and made a refundable deposit to hold her spot in the Class of 2017. When we were all back in the car together, I took my phone back from the littles, and prepared to drive us home. A notification on my phone caught my eye.
A missed call.
From my Aunt’s cell phone.
This did not bode well.
I called her back. And my churning guts were right. Mama was at the ER. In severe pain. In her quiet way, made even quieter by Mama’s presence, my Aunt shared with me that Mama had called her and asked her to take her to the hospital late that afternoon.
If Mama was hurting badly enough to return to the hospital, she was not doing well at all. She had been in the hospital for eight days the previous August, and she did not ever want to return. But nobody really does, do they?
I was thinking about all of this today, and I thought about my Aunt and how it seems like she’s always been there for us whenever Mama was in the hospital. All the way back to when we were all young. I remember us staying with her family when Mama was in for several days (I think) following surgery. If I remember correctly, she took us back to our house to shower and change for bed, and then we went back to her house for the night. I don’t have all that real clear, but what I do remember clearly is knowing it would all be okay. Because of her. My Aunt has a way of making me feel that way. Even when the world is falling apart.
On the phone that night, January 17, 2013, I asked her if she wanted me to come on to the hospital so she could go home. She hadn’t planned on them admitting Mama when she left her home, but it certainly looked like that was what was going to happen then. We talked about options, and she finally said, “No, I’m fine. Even if we stay the night, I’ll be okay. You stay there with the children tonight. In the morning will be soon enough, and I’ll head on home when you can get here. Get some sleep tonight. We don’t know how long it will be before you can again.”
What wasn’t said. That.
I love her so much for that conversation right there. For two reasons.
She knew I needed my sleep, and she gave me the gift of one more night at home in my bed. Neither of us were to know it, but the next night I would spend sitting up in a brightly lit ICU waiting room with the TV blaring TNT “car chase” movies, getting exactly twenty minutes of shut-eye. I am thankful for that gift.
But even more so, I am thankful that it just went without saying that we, none of us, would be leaving Mama by herself. There was no discussion to be had. It was an assumption, and I love her for that. She stayed until I arrived the next morning, having gotten things in some semblance of order (such as it is around here) at my house and having packed a bag. Just in case. A good thing, it turns out.
One year ago tonight, my Wesleyan Pirate began her journey towards attending Wesleyan. And we began the journey of–well, how do I phrase that–“losing Mama?” No I know where she is. She’s still very much with me. “Letting go?” We didn’t. I hung on tooth and nail, worrying every doctor I knew in that hospital right up until one finally said, “It’s time.” I don’t know what that night began except that I can tell folks that it was as close to hell as I ever want to be. It was hard. And for now that’s enough said about that.
I’m trying to make the point of remembering over the next few weeks to be one of redemption, of finding what I can be thankful for in the middle of all of this. Each night that I sent out an update from the hospital last year, I tried to end with “Tonight I am thankful for…..”
I think Mama would have liked that. I also wrote things I wanted to remember to share with her, things I thought she’d laugh at. Like the time she was still sedated but bit the doctor when he put his finger in her mouth. After letting her be shocked and feel bad for a minute, I was going to tell her that he deserved it. (He did.) Oh, and the story about one nurse’s little baby and how I took her a copy of Mama’s favorite book from the trunk of the car (where she kept extras) for the baby. Mess Cat and I were going to share a veggie burger with her from the cafeteria–it was so delicious! So many stories not shared or told.
After Daddy died, Mama told me something that was hard for me to hear.
“Tara,” she said, on the phone late one night. “If you call over here and you don’t get an answer, and you find that I’ve left this world in my sleep one night, I don’t want you worrying over it. I’ve had a good life. And I’ll be okay.”
“Mama it sounds like you want to go. I don’t want to talk about this.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve got a lot of things left to do. But if I go, I just want you to know that I’m at peace. And I want you to be too. You got that?” For a person of such diminutive stature, she could sound quite forceful at times.
She did have things that she still wanted to do. She told her pastor and sweet friend the afternoon after she was admitted, “I have to get well. I want to come work in the food pantry at the church as soon as I get out of here.” She had plans to go see her new grandson after he was born. As they wheeled her down to surgery, she told her nurse who was assuring her everything would be okay, “It has to be. I’ve got a new grandson coming any day now.” And she smiled a big ol’ beautiful smile through all that pain and discomfort and fear.
And that’s what I want to do. Throughout the next few weeks, through the pain of remembering and grief, I want to find and remember something to be thankful for in our days and weeks on the journey, some form of joy to be found. I don’t want to just plant a smile on my face, I want it to radiate from my whole being.
Because Mama told me she would be at peace, and I think she’s telling me it’s time I found myself at peace too.
Tonight I’m thankful to be the Mama of a Wesleyanne. When I was a student there, just yesterday I think it was, I never imagined the joy it would give me to be a part of the traditions with my own daughter. I give thanks for my Aunt who has been with us every step of the way ever since we were little. And that she still lets me walk with her today, that I can pick up a phone, just as I used to reach up my hand on our walks, and find her there. I’m thankful for the gift of being on the journey with my Mama, for the gift of seeing that smile and hearing the hope she had. I don’t understand, but that’s where that peace that Mama talked about, the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7) comes in. As I journey through the memories of the past and press forward to the future, that’s what I seek and hope to find. Peace.
Love to all.