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October 28, 2010

My mother has been sick for a couple of weeks. No, it’s not cancer, it’s just one of those things that happens.

She’s been in the hospital a couple of times, and of course I am stuck here in Dallas Freaking Out.

About a year ago, my mom got one of those phone calls, “Mom, I am in the hospital, get here on the next plane,” and she did, and after four days of IV antibiotics, I was somewhat better, and having my mom there was great.

Accordingly, I asked my mom if I should come out to see her. “No. NO! I do NOT want you making a big deal out of this!”

I know she’s not taking care of herself in the way I think she should be.

She is furious at missing four days of her life, being sick. “I’m having people over for brunch on Saturday! I can’t be in the hospital!”

“Mom, I missed over a year of my life. You can cancel brunch, or tell people to bring donuts.”

“I don’t WANT to have to cancel brunch. I want to be out of this hospital NOW!”

A few days later, it went like this, over the phone.

“Mom, you are doing too much. Your body needs to rest and recover!”

“I AM resting. I’m only doing half as much as I would be doing.”

When I was a little kid, my parents took us camping every summer. Who goes camping, backpacking, in a tent, with babies in diapers? My parents, that’s who. I asked them about it and my father said, “Well, we wanted to go camping.” It was that simple.

I remember when my mother was pregnant with my little brother, she taught in the Catholic girl’s high school where she worked until the nuns would not let her, because they were afraid she would have her baby in the teacher’s lounge. I think she gave birth three days after she went on maternity leave.

I remember when I was pregnant, and so, so sick, the first time,  how frustrated my mother was that I was too sick to do anything more than sit on the couch watching reruns of Charmed in a darkened room. I remember when I was pregnant the second time, in Tokyo, and my mom came out for ten weeks to take care of my daughter, when she finally “got it” when she saw me spontaneously projectile vomit, from the effort it took me to answer the door to get a delivery (it was a rush shipment of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

“It’s not normal to be that sick with pregnancy.”

” . . . ” My mother says that I sneer a lot, and I am sure she is right, but sometimes what she sees as a sneer is me trying not to vomit.

“You might feel better if you went for a walk.”

“No, I might feel better if I go back to bed and read Harry Potter.”

During the year my mother lived in Dallas, the year I had cancer, the year she put her entire life on hold to come pick up the pieces of my life, she discovered everything there is to know about this city. She discovered every park, every museum, every fun place to take toddlers. Me? I stayed in bed reading Harry Potter and playing Warcraft. For a year.

“If you would just try,” she said. “You haven’t spoken to your children in two days,” she would say.

The combination sneer and I am trying not to vomit expression would settle on my face, and she would walk away without saying a word.

She was right, of course, but what she did not understand was the sheer effort of not dying.

She wanted me to get up, to come to the park, to go see Don McLean in concert, to go to the art museum. She wanted me to be well enough to do those things, and she was terrified I would die, and miss out on my last opportunity to enjoy life with her and with my children.

Now that she has been sick, I want her to rest. I want her to lie in bed reading Harry Potter, so she can heal.

She won’t do that. She CAN’T do that.

I was grousing about it with my friend Peter, who is wise.

“Staying home resting would be a huge effort for your mother. It would be almost impossible. She doesn’t have the strength to rest.”

I know we all have to heal in our own way. I know I can’t tell my mom how to live her life. I should be glad that she is not so sick that her illness won’t let her do anything except lie around.

But I am very worried. It’s part of loving someone.

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One Comment
  1. Mary Knapp permalink

    Well…..there is much truth and wisdom in what you say.

    I learned that behavior pattern from my mother. A North Carolina mountain girl, who taught me what “tarheel” meant before I knew what tar was.

    When I was born, after twelve years of marriage and a stillbirth, she was told that I was in distress and the anesthesia could kill me, so she had a Caesarean without getting put under until I was safely out. She then confounded the doctors who told my father she was going to die from blood clots afterward, because she was unstoppably determined to raise her baby.

    What kind of heritage is that?

    When I was struggling in a business for which I was totally unsuited, my children assured me that I would not fail as long as I didn’t give up. I failed after seven fruitless years.

    I salute you for having the wisdom of knowing when to stop and rest and heal and live. Moderation is a great virtue, and you abound in it. You are also unstoppable in focusing all your energy on not dying.

    I’m going to rest (some) and continue reading Austen, and Conroy, and Philippa Gregory. I have even — guilty gulp — watched hours of HGTV.

    It’s time to learn, not only from my mother, but also from my daughter.

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