Four weeks ago, to the moment, my life was perfect. Everything was falling into place, just like every platitude said it would. Good things were finally coming to me, and I was ready for them. My biggest worry in life was how much money it would cost me to fix my bike after I’d crashed it. Ok, ok. It wasn’t exactly a CRASH . . . more like I ran it into a parked car while not paying attention. That’s right: a month ago, parked cars were the bane of my existence.
That’s kind of funny to me now.
Let’s rewind to Wednesday, May 29th: Nance (my mother and bff, for those of you who aren’t in-the-know) and I were excitedly buzzing over making arrangements for my part-time shore apartment in Asbury Park, New Jersey — a move that would fulfill my lifelong dream of living at the shore. It was Adventures in Decorating all over again; except, with this being a second home, I took on more of the role of budget warden and less of the role of a demanding style control freak. I really let my mother take the reigns on this project, much to her delight. I told her “I trust you,” when what I probably really meant was, “I’m far too exhausted to do this whole decorating process again. Do whatever you want.”
If all had gone according to plan, I would have moved in the weekend of June 14-16. Naturally, Nance had arranged for everything: the truck, the furniture (donated from her own collection), the décor . . . plus, every single thing from a list of “First Apartment Essentials” which she had, of course, printed out and begun checking off, promising me “extra” items she had lying around the house. For the rest? She was scheming ways she could buy it all for me without spoiling me too much. Classic Nance.
Right. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine from my incredible foreshadowing, all did NOT go according to plan. Those plans are another world now; a world I don’t even recognize, let alone live in. On Thursday, May 30th, around noon, I got the call from my father that put my life in a blender: “It’s your mother — she’s very sick — was lifestarred to Hartford Hospital — a stroke, or something.” I could tell by his voice that it was bad.
I wailed in the shower, crying “NO, NO NO, YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME YET. NOT NOW, NOT WHEN I NEED YOU SO.”
I wailed on the way to the hospital, as Dave tried desperately to lead my mind away from the dark place: “People make amazing recoveries all the time. Mostly everyone survives from a stroke.”
I wailed when the doctors led us up to Floor 9, the Neuro-ICU, thinking this is really bad. How could this be so bad? How could I have fallen so quickly from a state of grace into a world of horror? Five hours ago, I was texting my mother pictures of lamps, and now I am drowning in a sea of tears and wondering how I will ever live in a world without my brilliant, generous, well-reasoned and overly-involved mother?
I will spare most of the grizzly details, but the gist is that Nance had a very severe and rare stroke which left much of the left side of her brain damaged, and some parts of the right. She had two major brain surgeries in less than 48 hours — one to save what they could of her brain (a feat which proved to be impossible once they got in there for the surgery), and the other, to save her life. Once the doctors were finished doing everything possible in their capacity to save her, we were told we would have to wait to see the extent of the damage. The results might run the gamut from moderate to severe disability, or worse: the unthinkable.
In the days that followed the initial surgeries and news, I will admit, I was a mess. I held it together in emails to friends and colleagues, but inside I silently screamed: I want my mommy. Yes, at 27-years-old, I am still crying for my mommy. To be fair, she is also my best friend, whom I call/text at my every compulsion (or, in the spirit of honesty, any time I have to walk for longer than 10 minutes in the city). She is my go-to; my roll-dog. My voice of reason. My everything.
For weeks, my family waited on news with hushed words and baited breath, wondering if she would survive; and if she did, to what extent we would get her back. We knew that even the best case scenario would mean disability, but we had hope in our hearts and the firmly-held belief that the woman we knew and loved was damn near invincible in her strength. How could she succumb? It was unfathomable.
Yet there was my invincible mother, in a coma, fighting for her life. And I sat looking on, helplessly, not knowing when or if she would get better. The days crawled by, as we exhaustedly lived in limbo. It was the worst kind of hell I can imagine, one I couldn’t have imagined, even in my darkest nightmares of losing her. I’d never felt that kind of pain in my life — the pain of the unknown… my life and my heart were hanging in the balance of something so incredibly fragile; something I couldn’t understand, let alone solve with logic or reason.
It all changed in a moment. A phone call. A word: stroke.
Even through the worst of it, there were beautiful moments, too.
…the first time my mother opened her eyes and looked at me after the stroke, grabbing for my hand and squeezing as I said “I love you, I love you, I love you” through my tears…
…strangers on the brink of collapse in the ICU waiting room, still finding it in their hearts to mouth “good luck” as we would leave to meet with the doctors…
…friends, colleagues, community members and co-workers rallying around my family to provide us comfort, hope, support, meals, flowers, groceries, gift baskets and much-needed distractions during the hardest times…
…somberly celebrating Father’s Day over Mexican food, and still finding a way to laugh boisterously while reminiscing over our favorite family vacation Mom-memories…
…and sitting on a blanket next to beautiful, supportive Bonnie, with the sun shining on my face and the whole park empty except for us, feeling for the first time like some day I’m going to be ok.
Last week, we moved my mother to Palliative (end-of-life) Care. Too much damage was done to her brain; too much functionality lost. She wouldn’t want to live the life she would have been left with. The stroke left her a shell of the woman who taught me the strength I harbor today.
So here I sit in a hospital, watching my mother slowly die an unexpected death. I knew this day would come, eventually. It is the way of the world; of life. Children are supposed to outlive their parents. But nothing could have prepared me for this. Nothing could have readied me for this broken heart, scattered haphazardly in my chest. From the 9th floor window of the hospital, I watch the first nice days of summer disappear over what little skyline Hartford has, and hope deeply that she doesn’t feel too much pain.
I hold her hand and sing softly to calm her, replaying in my mind every moment between us that I can remember, so she still feels close. My mind leads me to this one moment, the day Nance’s mom died. I was 6 or 7 at the time. I was crying in my room, feeling sorry for myself for losing my grandmother. But then it dawned on me that whatever my feelings of loss, there was somebody else in far more need. I trudged through the house and found my mother, in the kitchen, on the old spiral cord phone, bravely making arrangements for the wake and funeral through her tears. When she hung up, and looked at me, I said “it’s gonna be okay, Momma. You have me.” She pulled me into her, both of us sobbing, and said, “I know honey, I know.” And she did. Always. I’m proud to say I never faltered in my devotion to her.
I haven’t heard her voice in nearly 4 weeks (the stroke took away her ability to speak), but I can hear her in my head telling me I will be fine, eventually. That it’s going to be hard, but that I am more than capable of absorbing the pain and undertaking the struggles and responsibilities that lie ahead. And there are many. She would remind me that I am a badass survivor; a warrior woman with an endless bastion of heart and strength.
I am my mother’s daughter, after all.