During the last 3-4 years, my mother has had more knee replacements than anyone ought to have in a lifetime. It's a long complicated story, but suffice to say you do NOT want to get an infection when you get a knee replacement. Curing that infection is not a matter of proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and a prescription for a Z-pack. It's an ordeal that requires not one, but two additional surgeries, along with in-home IV antibiotics and so much more. And all that was just for the first knee. Getting the second one done was yet to come--overcompensating as it was for the pain and infection in knee-number-one. It's been ridiculously frustrating and also rather frightening for Mother and therefore for all of us who love her.
You can imagine, then, my alarm when my sister called last night, beginning the conversation with, "Mama's fine. She's fine, really. She's in the Emergency Room, but she's fine." Naturally, I assumed that she was not fine in the least. Worst case scenarios raced through my psyche at a heartwrenching pace. Thankfully, Mother really is fine. It is not a blood clot as first thought; instead it is a common and treatable (though painful) condition that is (somewhat) easily corrected. Last night, the emergency personnel conducted the appropriate tests, applied the necessary treatment, and released her. As a matter of fact, she called me first thing this morning, sounding just like herself, getting ready to head to church. So she's fine. (Allow me to remind myself of this one more time, if you will; it's been our experience that where Mother's knees are concerned, everything is serious. She's okay though. Really.)
But that's not the whole story. Not even close.
My parents, though they are 79 and 81, are business owners who lead full, complex lives. (If something happened to either of them, our whole family would feel as if they'd been struck down in their youth.) Back in 2001, Mother and Daddy purchased Together Forever Wedding Chapel in North Myrtle Beach, SC; in 2008, my brother and his family moved to North Myrtle Beach to join our parents in operating Together Forever. So when Mother's knee gave out on her Saturday, my sister-in-law was nearby; Hal and Daddy were there too, completing one wedding and preparing to begin the next one. Mother wasn't in such dire straits that she wanted the business to come to a standstill to attend to her needs, so when she decided she should go to the ER, she asked her daughter-in-law to take her. After confirming the plan with Daddy and Hal, Mother and Kim took off, sans husbands.
Now, I have never taken for granted--I don't think--the gift of my sister-in-law's love for my parents. Even before she married my brother, Kim has been committed to our parents. She doesn't think her devotion to them is anything that remarkable; it's just who she is. But I recognize her unselfish commitment as extraordinary. You see last night, as my sister Dawn and I talked on the phone, trying to suppress our urges to drive straight to North Myrtle Beach, we would remind each other in turn, "Kim is there. Everything will be okay." We knew that Kim would not allow our mother (who--let's be honest--is a force to be reckoned with in her own right) to be ignored or overlooked. We knew that together they would ask the right questions. "Kim would tell us if we should go down." We could sit still, trusting Mother to speak for herself and Kim to back her up. "Don't worry. Kim's with her." And because she was there, we could breathe in and breathe out while we held our phones in our hands, waiting for an update. "Kim will tell us if she knows anything at all." We never doubted it.
That's power: the power of a sister who joined our family through marriage and instantly committed to be there for all of us, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
It was the second time in a week I had experienced the power of a sister.
My own beloved mother-in-law has been seriously ill for most of the summer. She was admitted to the hospital (for the umpteenth time this summer) on Friday, July 28, 2017. At the time, I was actually in North Myrtle Beach for my family's annual gathering there. When he heard the news about his mother, my husband Jay, who had not yet left Asheville, went immediately to his parents' home that Friday night. He spent most of Saturday in the hospital with his mother and was about to go over on Sunday morning when his dad called him from his cell phone.
"Jay, come to the hospital now. Overnight, your mother's health took a dangerous turn. Come now." He quickly explained to Jay that his mother had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit and was having a procedure done that required anesthesia. Now, my mother-in-law has had muscular dystrophy for 50 years or more and her lungs and heart don't always play nicely together any more. Adding anesthesia into that cocktail of concerns could end badly. Not doing the procedure would definitely end badly though, so they made plans to proceed.
As Jay got into the car, he called his sister with the urgent message; simultaneously, I happened to call my father-in-law. When he answered, he was distraught, beside himself with fear and anxiety. I'd never--in 30 years of marriage plus 2 and 1/2 years of dating--heard him sound that way. It was heartbreaking. I awakened my daughters to go with me to the hospital which, under the best conditions, was a ninety minute drive. Next, I called my son's fiance; my son was about to lead in worship at his church so I was hesitant to call him directly. I knew Addison would handle it and that together they would figure something out. (They were more than two and a half hours away, but arrived at the hospital as soon as possible.)
Oh wait. Did I mention that I had just had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery? Yeah, so that was about a week and a half old at that point. Pain was still pretty pronounced and function still limited to the slightest tasks. The surgeon's post-op directions had said to avoid using my hands for lifting anything over two pounds, or pushing, pulling, or twisting. (You might be surprised at how many activities those restrictions eliminate.)
"Get food, don't lift anything heavy, get caffeine, what else do I need, where are the girls, don't hurt your hands, is there anyone else to call, maybe there's a shortcut, is Jay at the hospital yet . . . " My brain was grabbing at whatever it could find so that it didn't have to process the possibility of losing my mother-in-law. It didn't work. "What if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies . . . " it was the cadence of the cacophony in my mind.
"I'm going with you." My sister, laden with a knitting project or two and her sling bag, wasn't asking me. She was ready to go when we walked out the door.
"I don't want to take you away from everyone," I looked from Dawn to Mother and around at the rest of the family.
"It's what we do," Mother said. "This is what we do."
We arrived at the hospital, emotion running high. The procedure was to take 15 minutes and when we arrived it had already been 45.
Dawn took a seat across the waiting room, present yet not intrusive. "I'll just be over here if you need me," she said, taking out her knitting.
I did need her. I needed her, for example, to run errands--it turns out that even in a crisis, people need to eat and dogs need potty breaks. But I also needed her to share the experience with Jay and me and the rest of the family. I needed her to be there in the flesh. My first best friend and playmate, my teacher and mentor, my friend and confidante. My sister's presence helped me to be my best self. That's a powerful presence right there.
Incidentally, all 12 of my mother-in-law's immediate family members made it to see her when she came out of anesthesia. She's still recovering, but for now the urgency has subsided. She welcomes your prayers for her continued improvement, as do we all.
So there you have it. Two mothers plus two sisters, at least in my life in the last week, equals the circumstances surrounding one emergency room visit plus one critical ICU patient, raised--that is, lifted--from untethered desperation to grounded hope by the power of two loving sisters.
Also, one more thing. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that when Hal learned what was happening, his response was, "I'm so glad Dawn could go. If she hadn't been able to go, I would have gone with Aileen."
It's what we do. It's just what we do.
Published on: May 13, 2009
There's some stuff here you might not get as it pertains to my family directly. The first one you must get though so I'll tell you. The earliest memory I have of my mother is of my brother's birth. All the books said, "When you bring the new baby home, let dad bring the baby in so your arms are free for the one who was the baby up till now." (That would have been me.) So when Mother came in first, after being gone from home for a week, (I was 3 and 1/2) I was supposed to run into her embrace. I didn't. I met her (probably with my hands on my hips) and said, "Where is my brother?" Mother had a good laugh at the psychologists who did not know everything after all. Okay, one more. To amuse me during laundry time, Mother let me (ahem) teach her how to fold wash cloths. She was a very slow learner. I had to show her over and over again.
I remember . . .
arms free just for me,
laundry lessons, “See?”
“Big G, little g. What begins with G?”
I remember . . .
“Slide your feet, follow me.”
“Make each cookie the same.”
“In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
“Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow.”
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
“Somewhere over the rainbow.”
I remember . . .
Watermelon, fresh cut
Strawberries, fresh picked
Ice cream, fresh churned.
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
Paper pills with handwritten quotes.
I remember . . .
Coupons: “by-one-get-one free,”
Substitute teaching, (even GT)
Sand dollar birds on a tiny tree.
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
A late night crash: “He’ll be okay.”
The itch that would not go away.
A circle send-off: “We love you, Jay.”
I remember . . .
“It’s better to love, no matter how it ends.”
“Go take a shower, you’ll feel better then.”
“We’ll be happy to have you, no matter when.”
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
The freedom in our family,
“Be who you are. We love you that way.”
The shelter of your shoulder,
“Come to Mama, that’s right, do what I say.”
The meaning of every message,
“As long as we’re together, it’s a really great day.”
I remember . . .
On Mother’s Day,
Saturdays and every Sunday.
I remember Mama.
And with full and grateful heart,
I rise up and call you blessed.
(Proverbs 31:28, paraphrase)
8-2-2015--Mother's 77th birthday.
Just yesterday, I realized for the very first time how difficult it must have been for you when we moved to North Myrtle Beach in 1982. I was a junior in high school; your youngest was in middle school; your oldest, a college freshman. The house we were building wasn’t finished, so while we waited, we stayed first in one rental and then another.
I gotta tell you: I thought I was the one with the problem. I mean, I had just moved from my beloved friends, my sister/soul mate was away at college, and I had the most annoying little brother ever born. Plus, we’d had to leave the family pet behind with friends while we stayed in the rentals. And school. And homework. And woe was me.
I never thought about how much harder it would have been if it hadn’t been for you. When I look back now, I can see the obstacles you deftly removed from my path.
The first rental was beautiful, but so sterile that it felt far more like a hotel than a home. You couldn’t change much there, but you added just the right touches to transform the generic to the familiar. Thank you.
The second rental was—well—not beautiful. It was old and so rickety it swayed from the ocean breeze. I distinctly remember your upbeat presentation of the place, offering me first pick of the rooms. I realize now that it was sort of a dump, but I didn’t really know it then. Because of you, it was home. Thank you.
When we finally moved into our house, you went to extraordinary lengths to make my room special. You essentially designed the room (at least in my recollection) around the dollhouse I loved so much. You didn’t have to—I know my furniture cost more than anything you bought for yourself—but you did it just for me. I loved it. I probably didn’t mention it then, but thank you. It meant so much that you valued what was important to me.
Today, I have two college kids and a high school senior myself; I realize more every day all the sacrifices you made for me. Thank you.
Nearly every day, as I learn more about myself, I learn more about how your love has shaped me. I could never thank you enough for being the extraordinary person you are, for showing me how to be a mother, wife, daughter, woman. I can only live my life in gratitude, humbled by the knowledge that by cosmic chance, I was born to the mother of all mothers. I love you.
With grateful heart,
I learned to type on my mother's Royal upright: a typewriter that doubled as a mechanical personal trainer: strength training and cardio-workouts with every use. No doubt it was one of Royal's best at the time she bought it; but when I was using it 15-20 years later, it was not what you'd call cutting edge.
Do you remember how they worked? You punched (literally) the letters on the keyboard which caused a chain reaction to occur. The key was attached to a little rod which ended with a metal letter stamp that corresponded to the letter on the key. When you punched the key, the stamp arose just as the ink ribbon did. The stamp collided with the ribbon on the paper before slapping back down into the machine to make room for the next letter's approach. If you got going too fast, the rods would crisscross and you'd have to stop and untangle them before proceeding. Now before you could do any of this, you had to load paper into the machine's carriage--a roller that moved the paper along at your keystroke pace. As you typed, the carriage would move the paper forward letter by letter. Once you reached the end of a line, you reached up and activated a lever on the roller which advanced the paper, released the tension, and allowed you to push the whole mechanism back to the beginning of the next line of text. (An activity which was, at least in my mother's advanced machine, accompanied by the sound of a bell--an encouraging little ring that I miss in the typing options of this millennium.)
It would take another whole blog post to recall for you how we corrected errors, made carbon copies, or--what a horror!--changed the tab stops. But suffice to say, that my computer is considerably more efficient. Plus it weighs a lot less, takes up less room, and the keys almost never get tangled.
So today, I'm thankful for my computer. And my ipad. Even though I don't work up a healthy sweat using them, I also don't have to replace their ribbons, so it's kind of an even exchange.
But you know what? I'm also thankful for that Royal upright. And for my mother who taught me how to use it (so what if she threatened bodily harm if I ever changed the tab stops).
My phone buzzed. The text was from my mother—impressive in itself as she celebrated her 70th birthday more than three years ago.
Mother: I’m getting a piano!
Me: No way!
I shouldn’t have been surprised. My mother has dreamed of playing the piano as long as I can remember. As children, my sister and I took piano lessons for years (my sister plays still; I have other gifts). We even had a piano in our home. It was no cheapo either: piano tuners still rave about the quality of it. I can’t imagine what my parents sacrificed to pay for that piano and for our lessons. Daddy was a Baptist pastor and mother, a stay-at-home mom; we had enough, but seldom any extra.
Mother loved that we took piano, even though (or maybe especially because) she never had. She could play a little, even read music in her own way. We’re not sure how she did it, because she didn’t know the names of the notes or even where they were supposed to be on the keyboard. No matter, she’d open her Broadman Hymnal, study the page, then manage a pretty good version of the song before her. Who knows?
She still has that Broadman Hymnal, but I have her piano in my house now. My oldest daughter began taking piano eight years ago; Mother couldn’t wait for her granddaughter to play on her beautiful piano (it had stood silent for so long). It’s not silent now. Both my older children take piano and they actually practice. Turns out that helps you get better. Wish I’d known that.
I called Mother after getting her text.
“I feel bad that I have your piano, Mother! Don’t you want it back?”
“Absolutely not! It belongs to your children now. I’m getting a new one.”
See, my mother, well into her seventh decade, has never given up on her dream to play the piano. So when she was walking through the mall last summer and saw that the piano store was offering group lessons for adults, she marched herself right in there and signed up. She finished the first round of lessons, played in her first recital, and was all set to sign up for the next class when she decided she would go all in. She talked to the teacher, worked out private lessons, and then set about picking out her piano.
“They are delivering it tomorrow,” she told me, grinning through the phone, “And I’ve got the perfect place for it.”
"Good people, cheer God! Right-living people sound best when praising. Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! Play his praise on a grand piano! Invent your own new song to him.” Portions of Psalm 33:1-3 (The Message)
Published September 17, 2008
“Mom, you can't go out like that.” My daughter somehow managed to express horror, disgust, and the scantest level of pity in one glance as she took in my outfit.
I looked down at my t-shirt and denim shorts. I couldn’t imagine what fashion rule I was breaking with this most basic of outfits.
“Why?” I asked, clueless.
My 14-year-old’s eyes grew wide and unbelieving; she responded as if I were joking, “Mom, your shirt is tucked in.” She shook her head, exasperated and not a little defeated, and walked away.
I untucked, but it was too late. Once again I had proved to my teenager what she already knew to be true: I am the world’s most un-cool mom. But the thing is, she’s wrong: because I had the world’s most un-cool parents. And I'm not even kidding.
Start here: my children are being raised in the new millennium. I was raised in the seventies. My children’s parents wear “Life is Good™” shirts and “Levi’s™.”My daddy (a truly wonderful human being but a product of his times where fashion was concerned) wore plaid polyester leisure suits and ties that were at least six inches wide. In the 70’s, we didn't so much style our hair as glue it into place. . .or not. My mother had a lovely and lofty bouffant and my daddy, God love him, wore a toupee for at least a decade and a half. He stopped wearing it for good after our family vacation one year. He'd stripped the thing off when we'd pulled out of the driveway, curled it up so it looked not unlike a sleeping ferret, and placed it in the glove compartment of our 1973 Chrysler station wagon. Ten days later, the toupee had permanently molded into its rodent shape. Daddy, looking not nearly as upset as a person should have been after having lost an entire head of hair to a faux ferret, never replaced it.
My children’s parents can dance. We boogied in college and two-stepped as newlyweds. We're good. My children are delusional when they say we can't dance.
It’s different with my parents. Now, in all fairness, because Daddy was a Southern Baptist preacher, he didn't get much opportunity to practice. Had his career taken a different path, perhaps he could have been the next Fred Astaire. But things were what they were and Daddy’s dance moves were somewhat. . . well. . .let’s just say unrehearsed. Once, my brother--a teenager at the time--returned from a shopping trip with Daddy ashen-faced, “I think I'm going to be sick,” he said, plopping in Daddy’s recliner and covering his face with his hands. They'd been shopping for speakers for my brother’s car. Daddy, listening to the music as they tested quality, had, well there’s just no other way to say it, Daddy had busted a move. Busted it wide open.
My children’s parents are hip too. I watch American Idol; Jay watches Deal or No Deal. We both liked the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and if that’s not cool, then what is? When I was a kid, we did not go to many movies. One of the few I remember us seeing as a family was Song of the South. After the movie, I was consumed by the idea of meeting the real Uncle Remus. My daddy, who had always told us Uncle Remus stories at bedtime, gave me the bad news: the actor who played Uncle Remus was not in fact the REAL Uncle Remus. Once I got over that bad report, I decided that meeting the actor would be sufficient. Poor Daddy, unable to break his promise never to lie to us, had more bad news. The movie we had just seen was in the theaters for a second run—it had come out a very long time ago; now even the actor who played Uncle Remus had gone on to the briar patch in the great beyond. Totally uncool.
As for TV, when I was 14, my parents were watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. Actually, my sister and I wouldn't let them watch anything else because those were our favorite shows. Remember when John-boy fell in love with Jenny? Oh I loved that one--except, of course, for the knife-to-the-gut ending: “To Be Continued.” And who didn’t weep when Mary became blind or cheer for Laura and Manly? (Okay, so my parents were pretty cool about TV.)
Here’s the amazing thing when it comes to coolness and parenting, though. My kids think it is cute when Papa dances in public. Cute! They love the stories about Papa’s toupee and can't even imagine Gangi with big hair and therefore don't really believe the hype. “Gangi always looks so pretty,” they explain to us patiently. “She never tucks her shirt in.”