The nurse had her hands at my mother’s throat. Mom had her eyes squeezed shut; although the nurse was trying to be gentle, the cap on the tube that kept Mom’s vocal chords stable enough to talk was stuck. The nurse was worried that the chords were being over-stimulated, and so she needed that cap off, but the smile that my family had worked so hard to put on my mother’s face disappeared as she pulled and tugged.
We had tried to distract Mom from the pain. Brian had done his patent-pending impersonation of spaghetti dancing, Kevin and Tim had debated loudly over which of them was Mom’s favorite (I didn’t participate, as I already knew it was me), and Patrick, being the oldest and therefore most mature, explained his plan to put his Japanese major to use by systematically taking over Asia. My father, whose hair had never been so grey, kissed my mother’s hand.
So when that nurse caused my mother to clench her teeth in pain, she became fair game. I started to hum the song that the Little Mermaid sings as Ursula steals the bright ball of voice from her throat. My brothers roared with laughter.
I could tell Mom was laughing too because her body, shrunked from 220 pounds to less than 100 in a matter of weeks, was shaking up and down in that familiar rhythm and she was wheezing. The cap had been successfully removed.
Throughout her sickness, Mom has kept all of us laughing, too. As an exercise, she had to write fake checks to prove to a baby-talking therapist that her mental faculties were still intact. Mom “paid off” all of our college loans… courtesy of the hospital, as she used their name instead of her own to sign the fake check. And on my father’s birthday, when Dad found all the Dove chocolates in his pocket had disappeared, my brothers and I vehemently denied the theft, each of us secretly congratulating the person who’d managed such sleight of hand. We just barely heard my mother’s incriminating gigglewheeze.
My mother turned 55 today. It has been 3 years since her stroke. She is thankfully out of the hospital, but still cannot swallow or walk without assistance. When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she said, “Potatoes. Nice fluffy potatoes, with lots of butter. Not for today, but soon.”
She believes she will recover from this, and so do I. One day she’ll eat again, all the potatoes she wants. I believe that as much as I believe that both laughter and tears are needed to stay sane, and hopeful, and secure in the knowledge that change happens and even so we adapt. I believe in the strength it takes to meet the eyes of the world and have them tell you what you don’t want to hear, and I believe in the strength it takes to rise up unbroken. In short, I believe in my mother.
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