the big darkness part 1
I wanted her to stop. My mother was pulling at threads from a fraying towel. I wanted her to stop for selfish reasons because I knew it was the only thing standing between her and the madness and I couldn’t bear to think that her whole sanity was held in an old towel.
It's something my dad keeps by her recliner for meal times and spills (whenever a cup would appear out of nowhere in my mom's left peripheral which was gone since the brain damage). She watches reruns of every cop show ever made and she tries to undo the towel with her one working hand, collecting the threads in a pile.
When she had the use of both hands, she made things, put them together; crochet blankets, rug wall hangings, painted ceramic pieces. Her hands tended the yard, the garden, the household chores, baked 70 to 80 blueberry breads every Christmas season. They checked foreheads for temperatures, hung cloth diapers on the line outside. They held tiny hands to steady wobbly, chubby, brand new legs and wiped copious amounts of tears and baby bottoms. They drove me down the same suburban roads hundreds of times and guided me through teenage turmoil and ache, by pulling me in close and loving me over the bumps.
With her hands and her heart, she put endless threads together and she held them smooth and taut, her love always ready to catch people. No one could hit the ground with my mom on the watch. I thought that net would never give out. Then one day, a careless person took a pair of scissors and cut everything loose. My mom fell to a deep dark place and everyone who loved her went with her.
We thought we could bring her back, as she had been. I prayed fervently, to please save my mother, please let her live. In my mind there were only two options, she lived or she died. There was a terrible third option that none of us considered in those first terrifying moments, brain surgery after brain surgery. The possibility that she would come back but leave much of herself behind. That she would finally be awake but also awake to her new limitations and lack of freedom. That this person who did for all, would not be able to do even the smallest things for herself.
Maybe I saw that option somewhere. But I couldn’t imagine how much it would cost her and I couldn’t bear to live without her, so I shoved it down and I prayed. I prayed that I could, please God, look into her eyes again in this life and that she would know me. That she would be again the woman who witnessed my entire life, the one who would witness it still. At the time I hadn't even had kids yet, let alone got married. I felt like my friend Renee who lost her mother shortly after college. As I sat with her on her couch some months after, she cried and choked out all the things that she had forgotten to ask her mother and now never would.
As they prepared to wheel her into her second surgery in 24 hours, they let us come in to see her. Some of her blood was on the floor and pooled in her ear; there wasn’t even time to clean her up. They had already shaved part of her head. I don’t have a stomach for blood but that day, I looked hard at it. I took everything in. This blood, her blood. Without it, I wouldn't be here. This body had sheltered me in my vulnerable beginnings. It carried and delivered three healthy babies. It was the vessel for the sweet soul that cradled us and nourished us. Now that vessel lay on a cold table in front of me and she, my mother, was trapped somewhere inside. Perhaps she was already somewhere else, hanging between this world and the next. Could she hear me? Was she scared? Was she cold? I'll never know. But those questions kept me up for hours at night, when I would leave the hospital and cry until my eyes were too swollen to see and I would fall asleep exhausted, heart smashed and full of anxiety for her. When I did sleep, it was that kind of beleaguered obligatory rest when the body sleeps but the mind and soul cannot.
All expression had left her face when the aneurysms burst and now her eyes were shut. I leaned in close to her ear so that my tears mingled with her blood and I whispered “Please don’t leave me. Please.” They whisked her away through the doors where we couldn’t follow. Inside me, everything just caved in, and my heart heaved as though the pain made it harder to do its job.
I'd like to say that we leaned on each other, my brother, sister, father and me. But in my house feelings weren't mentionable. Collectively wounded though we were, we largely bore our grief alone and side by side, in more waiting rooms than I can count. There was a lot of waiting ahead.