Please enjoy this excerpt from my upcoming book. I chose this story with its serious and somber tone to illustrate the spirit and the kindness of a woman that inspired this story, and who kept our family together.
It is with love and gratitude that I share this story with you …..
As Daddy’s condition deteriorated, Mama’s hands were very full. She was still trying to work and take care of him when she was at home. Her life seemed to be an endless cycle of work, groceries, doctors, and church. Rinse and repeat.
It wasn’t Mama’s nature to complain, so each day she quietly put one foot in front of another. Now and then, Daddy would notice the strain on her starting to show. He felt bad about that, but there wasn’t much that he could actually do to change that. He even would cook dinner occasionally so that she wouldn’t have to do it when she got home. Though the mess he made in trying to do so sometimes made it more difficult than if he had done nothing at all. One day, he wrote her a short but sweet poem to let her know that he saw her and her struggle. And to thank her for what she was doing to keep them going. For a time, Mama even pinned the poem to the refrigerator door.
Then there was the day that I left work and discovered that Mama was not at home. As it turned out, she had gotten sick at work earlier that day and a customer of hers had called an ambulance for her. She ended up at the Southeast Alabama Regional Medical Center in Dothan, AL and was in their cardiac unit. Tests would later reveal that she had had a mild heart attack and would need stints to open up two of her arteries. Further tests also revealed that she also had previously suffered mini strokes.
The mini strokes was as alarming and shocking to me as the heart condition. The reason being that she knew that she was having mini strokes. She would later admit that sometimes her face felt different and that she would notice a slight draw in her left cheek. Others would eventually start noticing that something was different, but when they asked her about it, she always denied it.
I felt guilty because I thought that I should have noticed. I saw other things in her like fatigue and the fact that she was more quiet than usual and would go to bed earlier.
Everyone came to see about her and to reassure Mama of their love and support. She handled it with typical grace. She genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the flowers, the hugs, and the kind words. They reassured her that they would check in on Daddy and Gigi to make sure that they were well, and to reassure them of Mama’s prognosis. Though the condition was serious enough with the real threat of becoming worse, the procedures that she went through were relatively routine and she would be home in a few days.
The pastor of the church had been among the last of the day’s visitors which Mama found comforting. I left them alone to have a private conversation. When I returned, the pastor had already gone and I sat down next to her bed. Her eyes were closed and she did not acknowledge my presence in the room. This led me to believe that she might have drifted off to sleep. So I sat quietly next to her staring up at the wall mounted television set that was playing with the sound turned off.
Then I heard Mama begin to cry. At first, I thought her tears were what she needed, a good cleansing. She was so tight lipped about everything and maybe she was finally starting to let her frustrations out. As her tears flowed and her sobs got louder, I realized that this was a different kind of crying. I had never heard her sound this way when she cried. Understandably, she was afraid.
I reached over and held her hand and told her that it was okay. I said to her that there was no need to worry about the procedures and that she would be at home in a few days. I even cracked a smile and laughed slightly while telling her that she could use the time off. But her tears were not for herself.
Mama began praying aloud, saying, “Dear God, please help me to get through this. I know that I don’t deserve it, but please let everything just go back to the way it was. Please help me to be well so that I can take care of Mother. Just let me live long enough to take care of her.”
With that, I clinched her hand tighter. I felt tears well up in my eyes, because even at this moment, Mama still is not thinking of herself.
What I was witnessing was Mama being true to herself at her very core. She was a caretaker. The kind that puts everyone else ahead of herself. Everyone that is a part of her life knew that this was true of her. As worried as I was for her, I was so proud of her. I knew that she would get through this because she had already identified a strong reason for her to get well and to carry on.
I told her that she needn’t worry about everyone else. That there were plenty of us and that we would all make sure that everyone was taken care of no matter what. But that she needed to rest so that she could get through the next day and take a step closer to getting back home where she longed to be.
I don’t remember if I told anyone else about her prayer, and what she asked for. The truth is, each of us probably had private moments with Mama we witnessed her selflessness, or she shared something extremely personal and private. The kind of things that were important for that moment, but not necessarily something that she wanted everyone else to hear.
Mama and I had a lot of these moments. They would increase as the years went by and she trusted me more, not just not as a son, but as an adult. As we get older, we collect life experiences. It’s either through our own situations, or through those around us. But as time went by, our relationship changed. While always being my mother first, she showed a respect for me and my opinions. That doesn’t mean that she always agreed with me or took my advice. However, she did care what I thought.
This was where having a good size family pays off. Each of us would help Mama in our own way. There were roles that each of us seemed to play in her life. On this particular day, I promised Mama that I would be there for her. I would help her though this and then we would see what her next step should be in terms of going back to work.
Mama had her stints put into place. She had carry around a little card for when she went places that required her to pass through sensors. She would now set off more alarms than a midnight fire. We joked about that and had a big laugh. It didn’t matter. Just as long as she got home to see how her husband and her Mother were doing. For her, it was very important for them to see her and to see that she was well and on the road to recovery.
Following big health scares like a heart event, it’s very common for people to suffer from depression. Mama had dealt with depression off and on for years anyway. But at least now she would begin seeing a doctor regularly. She chose a wonderful woman who not only was good at being a doctor, but was also a great human being. For the remainder of Mama’s life, she would be well looked after, both at home and by her doctor.
Her doctor gave her medication to handle her depression along with everything else. She also agreed that it was time for Mama to retire. She was plenty old enough to do so, and in fact, had already retired once before back before Daddy got sick and could not return to work. This was a great relief to me, and it gave her the chance to do what she really wanted to do anyway which was to be at home, surrounded by her things, and most importantly by her loved ones.
This would be the beginning of a period in Mama’s life where she could start to relax. The pressures that she had born so well for so long on her shoulders would be greatly relieved without having to work so hard each day. There would be plenty for her to do at home to keep her busy. It was inspiring to see her work so hard at improving her health. And it was great to see her church family rally around her, improving their health as well as they would meet her as they all walked together.
Mama would have a year of relative peace. She got to enjoy making things as she wanted at her home. She got to spend all of the time that she wanted with Gigi. Her grandkids were around more giving her a chance to enjoy them without being pressed for time and stressed. And last, but not least, her church activities allowed her to get away from home once in a while and gave her spiritual nourishment. She got to enjoy dropping in on someone or being dropped in on by people who could now more easily find her when she was at home. Fun things like “secret pal” gift exchanges and weekly trips to the library for cozy books set in places like Maine and Mongolia kept her mind sharp. Some books she enjoyed so much, that she would wait a few months and check the same book out again so that she could re-read it.
I began a habit of reading books and then passing them on to my mother and father to read. They would be different books for each though. I shared funny, home spun wisdom type books like Bailey White’s “Mama Makes Up her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living.” For Daddy, I would read and pass on action adventure books and true crime books. This was something that all three of us enjoyed until …..