Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And what happened was.....

My job at Eakin was not renewed after last year. The funding was reallocated.

I went to school all summer semester long with four classes three days a week back to back to back to back, April to August. I sold Thirty One. I kept kids. We swam. Played a lot of Uno and read Harry Potter and listened to Percy Jackson stories on audio disk.  I wrote a honking ton of papers and did bulletin boards and projects and lesson plans and hunted for a job.

We made a very quick run to Michigan for the Fourth of July. I wrote scripts and taught multi age / multi cultural Sunday School. I felt God being in the presence of children. In holding my husband's hand. In preparing meals for my family.

After a rough Spring semester, my husband needed a break. He worked a couple days a week at the record and comics shop and didn't get his contract renewed at the middle school. We decided it was in his best interest to student teach and go a more traditional route.

Our boy became a spectacular reader and grew many inches. He refused to sleep in his own bed for many many months because of a bad incident at school in the Spring. We're actually still working through it.

My brother and his wife and their baby moved from Boston to Oak Ridge, and moved in with my folks.

My sister's family thrived, even though Dana had a boot for months on her foot and kidney stones. They got a new van, stayed in their beautiful home and Dana began her sixteenth year teaching gifted middle schoolers at the same locale.

Our mother's health rapidly declined. We had noticed it for months. Worried, fretted, made late night phone calls. We googled and asked each other questions. Made observations. She called me up sometimes telling me that her memory was going. In the early summer, she admitted to my brother, which he then told to us girls (through tears) that Mother couldn't remember what went on the breakfast table in the mornings.

Daddy seemed unmoored.

Mother kept falling. Nearly into the creek. Onto the potato bin during the blessing before supper. On the steps. Over her feet. Into the bushes. She had a little black-out incident in the swimming pool.

School started again. I kept looking for a job. We spent all our student loan money on tuition and rent and new shoes for  the boy and car repairs and gasoline to run back and forth across the plateau for me to see family. To figure things out with Mother. To print off resumes and jump through hoops and dream about moving closer to the folks if only the right job materialized.

It did not.

What happened was: Mother had a grand mal seizure in her bedroom on September the eleventh. Daddy and my brother found her. By the next evening, she'd already been in three ambulances and was checking into her third hospital, Vanderbilt this time, in MY city. ICU.

I was offered a job, and declined it, going into the red with our bank account but needing to be with Mother to see what was going on.

The short story is that she had a brain tumor. Had had it awhile. (It'd been missed in a scan a year before.) Hydrocephalus had made her forgetful and unbalanced and it had made her seize. The night before they went into her head with endoscopic instruments, I made a pot of chicken and dumplings and took it to the ICU. My mother, my father, my sister, my brother and I all ate the dumplings together and gathered around Mother to say a prayer. It was Communion, in the truest sense.

That may have been the first time in twenty plus years it'd been just us having a meal together: no boyfriends, husbands, grandbabies, others.

Well, God was there.

In the wee early morning, I had my car valet parked and went up to Mother's room. She was awake and I laid down in the bed with her and we held hands and listened to each other breathe and reminded each other of funny and tender and outrageous things. She reminded me that in life-- and in the event of her death -- her wish for each of us, her children, was this, these three things on which we could base THE WAY WE LIVED:

Love fully. Forgive, forgive, forgive. And: stay true to the Spirit of your Christian core. 

She made sure to express that my core might differ from someone else's and that Christian was based in Christ, not in political garble or evangelical smack downs. She's good that way, my Mother.

After the surgery, everything got messy. Bad. Painful.

For her. For us.

I turned down another job.

My brother tried to juggle his new job and still new baby with being in Nashville so much. Daddy fought with each of his children. We fought with him.

Mother talked a blue streak in word salad and had a hard time orienting to time and place for awhile. Some days we were in Afghanistan, fighting a war. Some days we were in Virginia; it was 1992. Or 1970, somewhere else. In England. In Knoxville. The nurse was the church secretary and her husband was coming to pick her up.

My child turned six. On his birthday, even though he was afraid of Mother's catheter bag and the PIC line in her hand, he and I had a picnic lunch in the ICU with hand picked fancy cupcakes and little plastic dishes of ice cream.

My husband and I were so tired. We'd fight. I'd cry. He'd hold me. I'd promise him we'd make it okay somehow. We'd get more rest. We'd finish school. I'd get a job. He'd finish student teaching.

The day Mother left Vanderbilt on a stretcher being pushed by the EMTs, she waved like the queen to everyone on the way out. I hear the nurses are still using my phrase, "Cover up your pocketbook!"

When the ambulance pulled away, I felt as though my heart had just been pulled from my body and I couldn't get enough air. I didn't know what to do.

I took a job.

I teach sixth grade reading at an urban middle school. It's an incredibly challenging gig, and I work way too many hours a week, up very very early in the morning, staying at school into dark.

I go to school and will graduate in mere weeks. On off weekends, I drive east to see Mother. I help with math homework and shuttle my child to martial arts and birthday parties and make sure his Cub Scout tasks are complete. My house is in constant disarray. We eat a lot of sandwiches. I don't see friends. There is no time. At night, I reach across my six year old and hold my husband's hand and tell him how much I love him.

Last night I said, "I miss you." He said, "I miss you, too, Babe." We know we'll make it back to each other.

Mother got stronger at Patricia Neal doing rehabilitative therapies. She still has some double vision and some confusion. She thought Thanksgiving was this week, she told me on the phone last night. She'd been expecting me to arrive and assigning different ones different jobs like pie baking and such.

She has cancer.

My beautiful amazing Mother has brain cancer.

Already, she has been through it, nearly having lost her life to a fluke virus that invaded her heart back in the nineties.

And now this.

I'm angry.

And sad.

And a fighter. I am the cheer team captain of Team Happy Club.

Sometime during the time of the ICU and the worst of all the days, I came home one night with this revelation to my husband. You know what? I asked --- It's my MOTHER that's the extraordinary one. Daddy's so brilliant with his photographic memory and his charm and the ability to suck all the air out of the room because he's just who he is. But it's my mother who is extraordinary. She's not just the glue. She's IT.

Thankfully, we children have a lot of her in us. I see it in my brother's tender ministrations to her (and his frustration, too,) and in my sister, with her no-nonsense To DOs and her absolute refusal to believe anything bad is going to happen. To mother, or to any of us. I see it in my own need to do SOMETHING, even though I am here and she is now at home....

I set up a meal train and update folks on Facebook. We talk on the phone. I cry in private. A lot. I pray. A lot. I try really hard to love fully. To forgive, forgive, forgive. And to stay true to the Spirit of my Christian core.

A lot of the time I'm bungling things. I forget stuff because I'm tired and over extended and nowhere near the extraordinary woman my mother is.

I'm working on it.


  1. I cried reading this. It's horrible and beautiful all at the same time.
    thinking of you and those close in your life.

  2. Oh you poor dears. It does seem that life throws a lot your way, Paige! Keep your positive attitude: it will be very helpful to you in the time ahead.

  3. Paige, I am so uplifted with your journey. It is an amazing life. Our parents are everything to us when we are little, know NOTHING when we are know - it - alls, are the rocks of Gibraltar when we are young parents, are all knowing about so much when we find they will go away - never to see them again....for always. My dad has been dead for over 10 years and I still talk to him & see him in my garden. I never knew my Mom until half my life was over. (She was pretty much my "enemy" for much of that time!!) We became so close when my son was born and for all the 20+ years after that. In her last year of her life, she became MY child and I was her rock. I still miss her today and see her in the things I have of hers.... knowing how gently she touched them - china, watercolor paintings, my son - and me. I now see so many ways how both of them continue to live in me---in my actions, sayings, in their grandchild/ren. Their life is wonderful...even after we don't see them any more...because they continue to live.

  4. Beautiful, Paige. Write it down. I feel connected to your and your family's story, and I thank you for your honesty. Love be with you.

  5. I should've walked right over to your booth with a hug. Love to you and your family. May 2012 be filled with light.

  6. Thank you Sharon, El, Alyce, Beverly and Trisha. We're all holding up quite well. We're pretty tough. El, your family has been in our prayers. E tells me your mother has been ill. Alyce, you've been a godsend to us this year as our sitter, and as kind of a substitute grandmother and dear friend. We couldnt' have graduated without you! Beverly, thank you. I admire you so much. Trisha, right back atcha. XXX

    (So sorry I"m TERRIBLE about responding to comments. Part of my issue is that I don't know how to stay signed in to blogger w/ my gmail address, and I simply get distracted.)

  7. I really DO appreciate when y'all read and comment. It means a great deal to me.