My Mother Had a Craniotomy: How My Family Got Through It
Once she had blond hair, the color of wheat. Everyone wanted to touch it. When she walked into a room, heads turned to see the woman who glowed, blond and pale, a Nordic queen.
My father tells the story of how he fell in love with my mother at age 6, like a fairy tale. He still talks about a rival boy who, in an effort to win my mom's affection, dipped her long blond braids into his school ink well. On the walk home, my father, the oldest of four farm boys, clobbered him.
Now my mother's bald head glistened, and underneath the white gauze, a big line of black stitches ran from one ear to the other, like a smiley face grinning at heaven.
"Well," said my mother, "did they write 'Go Mets!' on my head bandage?"
I looked at my three sisters, trying to gauge their expressions.
"They did, but I crossed it out and wrote 'Yankees' instead," said my dad.
We laughed tentatively, then louder, a little more sure of ourselves.
A tumor on the frontal lobe. Dizziness and headaches were the first signs. Where was the tumor now?
"I was never a Yankees fan," she said.
"Yes you were," said my dad. "You just don't remember."
She laughed again, and it sounded like music. My mom used to sing. In the church choir as a soloist, in the kitchen, in the shower, in the garden, on car trips. ... A beautiful voice as graceful as flowing water. What if she sang right now? What if she lit up Intensive Care for the care of her soul? What if we sang to her?
As my father hovered over her hospital bed, his lined face white like snow, I heard every word of his silent prayer and felt a tightness in my chest, his body. I could tell he wanted to cradle her, fragile as tissue paper. If she sang right now, would you put your mouth over hers and inhale her to keep her forever? This no longer was a fairy tale.
A nurse with puffy eyelids and saggy cheeks came in and gave my mother a shot of vicodin, then left. "Eileen," read her name tag.
"What do you call a woman with one leg shorter than the other?" said my youngest sister. She didn't wait. "Eileen."
We laughed like there was no tomorrow, tossing our heads back, big balloons of laughter floating up to the ceiling. After a four-hour craniotomy, my mother wiped the tears running down her cheeks with the back of her hand.
A year later, I'll walk through Golden Gate Park under the thin shade of a willow tree and stop and stare. A bird-like woman with tight gray curls. She lifts up a man from his wheelchair, and he towers over her, a royal figure sculpted in marble, before his neck folds over, exposing the shiny pink of his head. How old? Eighty? Eighty-five? With trembling hands, he clutches the old woman's shoulders and smiles. She whispers something, words of encouragement, perhaps, then turns on a small black transistor radio and they begin to slow dance.
I can't move. Mesmerized. This is how a fairy tale ends, a fairy tale that lasts until happily ever after.
My parents met at age 5, and my mother died at age 63. Not from the brain tumor or the lung cancer, but of pneumonia.
There are so many ways to die -- but one couple lives to a ripe old age and dances in the park, and a grandmother is cut free from the wolf's stomach.
In the hospital room that day, we built a mountain of jokes. My mother remembered jokes from 1952, from Reader's Digest, The New Yorker, her college roommate. My father was not to be outdone. We passed around the box of Kleenex, tears rolling down our cheeks.
I remember the cream-colored walls, the pale pink curtain, a bad oil painting of a row boat drifting out to sea. The room darkened, the rhythm of the Intensive Care Unit took over and visiting hours came to an end. We grew quiet, the pink and orange of the dying sun seeping in, and we listened as if to make it permanent the music of my mother's beating heart.
Around the Web
- What Drives Men Away and What Attracts Them - YourTango
- Bill Clinton: It's Still the Economy, Stupid - The Daily Beast
- Do You Want to Know When Your Friends Run Into Your Ex? - The Frisky
- Would You Marry Someone Who Didn't Have a Job? - The Gloss
- And the City That Has the Most Sex Is ... - The Stir, CafeMom
- 3 Easy Ways to Keep Your Makeup Sweat-Proof This Summer - BellaSugar