We were sitting outside a drugstore. My sister-in-law was inside, picking up a couple of things.
Mama sat quietly in the passenger seat. Reading isn’t the only thing she can’t do. Mama doesn’t drive either.
Well, that’s if you discount the backseat driving she does. “Get in the HOV lane,” she tells me when we head north towards the hospital. “And step on it.” Mama always liked to drive fast and she likes anyone driving her to drive fast, too. I stubbornly refuse to drive over the speed limit. I have enough problems to deal with right now. I still can’t find the wallet I lost between the hospital and home a week ago. Don’t worry, I’ve gotten the new license, new debit card. Still. It’s unsettling to lose an entire wallet. I mean, I’ve never in my life lost a wallet before, have you?
She’s not like Samson. After Mama lost her hair she started getting stronger. She can walk two laps around the yard, instead of one. She showered herself for the first time in a month. (One of us was there with her the entire time, but she stood up and did it all by herself.) On this particular day, we took a trip to her favorite produce stand in Enumclaw. She wanted some homegrown tomatoes. I wanted some apples. We poked around the town, which is quaint and has the best handicap accessible sidewalks I’ve ever seen. No curbs so Mama could wheel right up to the store-fronts.
But the stronger she gets physically, the more mournful she becomes.
I know because she turned to me while my sister-in-law was in Walgreens and said, “I wish this was curable and not just treatable. The doctors said it is treatable but not curable. I wish it were curable.”
She didn’t look at me when she said it. She looked straight ahead, like she was talking to passing traffic.
It is an odd turn of events, this moment when daughters seek to comfort mothers. Not that mine haven’t had to do that a time or two themselves. My daughters have often encouraged me, prayed for me, cheered me on, and jerked me out of despair. My son has as well. So, odd as it may seem, this role-reversal, I am not unfamiliar with it.
Still, I paused before saying anything back to Mama. What words of comfort did I have to offer? Should I have reached for her hand and prayed right then and there in the Blood of Christ for her to be healed by God Almighty? Should I have rebuked the powers of Satan and Cancer?
College educations are of very little use in moments like these. I read all those Kubler-Ross books on death and dying and yet, I wasn’t sure what the right thing to say to Mama in that moment was so I said the only thing that made any sense to me.
“I wish it were curable, too, Mama.”
And then silence fell over the car again. Nobody cried or wailed, although, that seems to me to be an entirely appropriate response. You can bet that if I were in my mother’s shoes there would be a lot of that on my behalf. I am a girl who believes in a weeping- and-the-gnashing-of-teeth sort of mourning.
I had this dream all night long. I’d stir then lapse right back into it. It was like that TV drama 24-Hours. That’s all I had. Doctors had determined that I was going to die at 5 o’clock p.m. I wasn’t sick. Nothing. Just my wick was going to burn out. I was going to draw my last breath. Everybody kept staring at me with a pitiful look on their faces. They kept measuring every word they were saying to me. They treated me like I was ignorant, as if I were in the dark about the reality of the passing of time. And yet, I kept looking right back at them like they were stupid. Like they couldn’t understand the doctors were all wrong. I was healthy as all-get out. Why in the world would they think I was dying?
I’ve seen my mother cry more in the past month than I did in a lifetime of living prior. My children are used to a mama who bawls. I am not.
What hope or comfort would you/have you added in such moments?