Remember, you all had Mothers."
(from "Yes We Can Can" written by Allen Touissant, recorded by The Pointer Sisters, and many others)
About a year ago, I wrote a post called "Mothers" which was mostly about my mother and what she taught me about religion (and reading). Now, being in CPE (that's Clinical Pastoral Education, and most who prepare for the ministry are now required to complete at least one 400-hour unit), and especially making my rounds through the outpatient cancer clinic, has me thinking about Mom a lot.
A generation's time ago, my mother called to tell me that she was going into the hospital for surgery. She'd found a lump in her breast, and they were going to remove it to see if it was cancerous. Although she said it wasn't necessary, of course I took a week off of work (without pay) and went home. My Dad and I sat in the waiting room for long hours waiting for the doctor to tell us if Mom was going to be o.k. When he finally appeared, the doctor told us that the lump was cancer, (this was when they still used the terms benign and malignant) and that he'd removed my mother's breast and all lymph nodes under her arm. Mom stayed in the hospital for a solid week, then shooed me back to my own place once she got home, determined to get back to normal life herself. After she recovered from surgery, they set up a course of radiation treatment which burned her skin and completely destroyed hair follicles on that side of her torso.
Mom never complained about any of it, at least not to me - and I know not to my brother, either. I learned then that my mother, who I'd always thought of as a "china cup" of a woman, was really a "stoneware mug." Not eggshell-thin and fragile after all, but more like the thick white mugs at White Castle and other late-night diners. I told her that once - and she laughed at me, saying I really should have known that already. I guess I should have. Any woman who met her husband while they both worked at a chicken farm, married him two days before he was shipped overseas, then waited for him to come home from World War II, and followed him through the years that he worked on one farm and another, had to be resilient. The mastectomy and subsequent treatment were necessary inconveniences to her - the main point was to get through it all and LIVE. Some call that stubbornness - I call it courage and strength.
She's still teaching me this lesson. My father's death a decade ago nearly did her in, but she recovered from the heart attack she suffered six months after his death and decided that she wanted to live - especially after my niece told Mom that she was going to be a great-grandma. She's now a great-grandma three times over, and she gets excited every time she gets new photos of the children from my nieces.
Mom's slowing down, though. A couple years ago she broke her foot, which put her out of commission for the volunteer work she did at the local elementary school. She's had increasing joint problems, back problems, heart problems... and a chronic case of glaucoma for which I drive her to a specialist several times a year. But she survived another round of angioplasty last year... Still, she's almost 82, and I'm starting to wonder how much longer she'll be on this earth. That's one of the dangers of working in a hospital - you learn about how the elderly sometimes slowly slide into a decline, never quite recovering full functioning but plateauing at a new level, before suffering another health crisis. She may have years yet - or she may suffer an illness that will rob her of the health she still has.
When the time comes, I know I will get through it and live, for nothing would honor my mother more. For now, though, I'm grateful she's here - and I'm grateful for all she taught me.