Today marks my mom’s six year “aneurversary” as we like to call it. Six years since her brain aneurysm ruptured. Though it’s been a rocky road, she has come so far and I am so proud of her. Many would be content to just give up, collect disability checks, and wait to die. But we are built of stronger stuff than that in our family. Mom is working full-time at a job she loves, she’s putting my sister through school, she’s always there for anyone who needs her. I’m grateful for the lessons she’s taught me, awed by the tenacity she shows at all times, and proud to be her daughter. She’s not perfect, but she’s my Momma.
At the urging of my husband, I submitted a piece of writing to be considered for a reading at the Listen to Your Mother show in Austin. I couldn’t pick one piece, so I mashed up a few together, trimmed it down to be 5 minutes or less when read aloud, and felt my heart jump off a cliff when I clicked the “send email” button. My piece wasn’t chosen, but I thought I’d share it here anyway in honor of my Momma.
“Do you know what tomorrow is?” I asked.
“Yep. Six years,” she sighed.
“How are you feeling about it?”
“I feel like… that’s life,” she said and I heard the hesitation that meant she was rummaging through the upturned file cabinet of her brain, searching for the words she wanted, but settling for the ones she could find. She knows I understand all she cannot say. “Do you regret anything?” Mom asked me. I knew what she was really asking.
One sunny day in March 2006, the world was spinning as it always did and my dramas were small and petty on the grand scale. The next, sunnier morning, a 15mm portion along the internal carotid artery in my mom’s brain decided it was sick and tired of keeping all that blood in one place. It packed up, clocked out, and quit doing its job. Thereby unleashing a torrent of trauma into Mom’s subarachnoid space, and into all of our lives.
When I got the call from the emergency room that morning, the news was so grim. The nurse urged the importance of getting to Shreveport from Houston as fast as possible. The unspoken reason being to say goodbye to my mother. As the miles ticked down on the odometer and the calls kept coming from the hospital, the reality that I would have to live without my mother kicked in.
I fought it and hid my fear from my sister. I wasn’t ready to lose my mom. The doctors asked if I would give permission for them to operate, outlining the slim chances for her survival. For a fraction of a second I recalled a conversation in which she told me she would never want to live as a vegetable. She made me promise that if something ever happened and her brain was gone, then she was too and I would have to let her go. For an even smaller fraction of a second, I considered that time might be now. But I knew if there was an even smaller still fraction of a chance that she could survive, then we had to try. I signed the consent forms and then went to her bedside. Careful to not disrupt the IV lines, oxygen monitors, and cranial shunt, I held her hand, kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear “I’m here, Mom. You’re going to be fine.”
As hours passed in the hospital waiting area, I weighed the two possible outcomes: life and death. I was intimately familiar with what death would entail: a funeral, a grieving process, a hollow spot in my heart. I was less familiar with what life would be like if she survived, but I was sure it would just be a few weeks of recovery and then a return to normal. Two options. Black and white. I drank horrible coffee and planned her eulogy and wished for a distraction.
She beat all the odds. She survived the surgery. She avoided post-operative complications. She didn’t get pneumonia. She walked within 2 weeks. She didn’t believe us at first, when we said aneurysm. She rewarded us with a furrowed brow and a confused tilt of her head. She knew she was weak, drugged, and unable to speak. She couldn’t remember, couldn’t comprehend what had happened. She thought…. Well, I don’t know what she thought because she couldn’t tell us. That lazy artery wall had leaked blood all over the part of her brain that controls speech. I could see the questions in there, the words bouncing around in her brain. Everything multiplying exponentially and crowding up in that space. She’d spent nearly 50 years being the most outspoken and eloquent person and now….now…. Her tools, her weapons, her thoughts, her loves, her words wouldn’t come. Trapped in her head. Reluctant to leave her mouth and be seen in the light. Stubbornly denying her a voice. The brain which had served her so well, which she prized, by which she defined herself and attained every goal to which she aspired… it was now her enemy.
“But you’re doing so well!” we tried to cheer her on. “You can walk and breathe and taste and swallow. Mom! You can swallow! All by yourself! Isn’t that awesome news!!? Aren’t you proud? Aren’t you fulfilled?” Her confused and frustrated expression was answer enough for that ridiculous question.
We expected black and white, but we ended up in a gray area. She survived, but struggled. She had problems with her speech and short-term memory. She was weak and often fatigued. She didn’t remember any of what happened and didn’t believe us when we told her she would get better. She has gotten much better, but she will never be the same. There have been times in the deepest of depression when she has admitted that she wishes she had died. That death would be better than this limited existence she has now where she has lost her voice, her independence, her life as it was before.
I have a new mom. The mom I had before died six years ago. My new mom is a lot like my old one. She’s still the smartest person I know, has a better sense of direction than a compass, is maniacally devoted to her grandkids and fiercely protective of her daughters. I can still look in her eyes and see all that she wants to say, even if she can’t. I still want her cool hand on my forehead when I’m sick, and her bony shoulder to cry on when I’m sad. So although I lost my old mom in 2006, I got her back and then some, as she healed into the person she is today.
“Do you regret anything?” she asked me. And I knew what she was really asking.
I spoke immediately what was in my heart. “Not if you don’t. Not for a fraction of a second.”
I love you, Mom. I’m prouder of you than you’ll ever know. Sometimes my words get stuck too, but you’ve given me my voice – as well as yours – and I love you bigger than the sky.