Journal Entry: October 13, 2002 (Sunday)
Okay, technically it’s Monday morning, 1:30 to be exact, and I’ve just left Mom at St. Mary’s hospital. She’s had a stroke. A freaking stroke. Oh, they use fancy words, words that don’t resonate with me, like “cerebral hemorrhage.” As far as the heart attack goes, the doctors don’t seem too worried about that, so I’m not, either.
I thought she was dead. Oh, God, what if she’d died? I just saw her three days—four days—ago at her apartment. Her sixty-seventh birthday. I had worked all day and been dreading the visit borne more out of obligation than celebration. Wes, the kids and I stopped by Walgreen’s on the way, picked up a ten-dollar candle and a bottle of lavender body lotion, neither of which excited her very much. Sitting at her small thrift-store table, smoking cigarettes and drinking weak coffee, she told me, “I’m just not happy here anymore.” How many times have I heard that? I knew I wasn’t the favorite child, had always known that. (She once told me, “I love you children the same, I just like you for different reasons.”) Why couldn’t she have been happy to see me? It reminded me of last year’s birthday, when I’d made her a birthday cake, and the kids and I walked to her apartment to give it to her. All she could say then was, “I wish your sister was here, too.”
As I’m writing this, I’m fantasizing about how I wish that scene a few days ago had played out differently…
“I’m just not happy here anymore, Janemarie.”
I pulled her close, hugged her with my strong arms and smoothed the gray wisps of hair on her head. “What’s the matter? Why are you so unhappy?” I gently pulled away to look into her eyes. Dull. Listless. Sad.
“Why don’t you come home with me for a few days? I’ll take some time off, my boss won’t care. We can hang out, watch some movies. I’ll even cook,” I smiled, “although maybe you can cook, too. You make the best fried chicken, Mom.”
Except, of course, nothing of the sort happened. I honestly can’t remember what I said to her, but I know I was on the defensive, that it felt as if she were accusing me of not making her happy, not being someone else. And as if she knew my gifts weren’t heartfelt, she had waited until Saturday to thank me. Is that the day that damn cerebral hemorrhage knocked my mother off the commode and onto the ceramic tile on her bathroom floor?
The phone rang. I looked at my watch; it was now more than two hours past midnight, two hours since I’d left Mom’s bedside. I was jolted back into panic mode, hands trembling while I struggled to speak despite my now-shallow respirations. “Hello?”
“Is this Mrs. Bratton?”
I lit another cigarette. “Yes, it is.”
On the other end was a third-shift nurse from the hospital who told me that my mom had fallen out of bed, that she was okay, and that the call to me was routine. “These things happen,” she said, assuring me my mother was safely tucked in for the remainder of the night.
After I hung up the phone, I opened another beer and wondered what awaited me, my sister, and our mom in the morning. I wondered if Mom would recover enough to return to her apartment. I wondered what would happen if she never fully recovered. Am I now her caregiver? Will my mother now be dependent on others—on me—for everything, our roles reversed forever? Is this my baptism into the church of the Sandwich Generation, my tears the holy water that will cleanse me of my sins as Mom’s resentful, judgmental adult daughter?
I knew I would learn much, much more in the days and weeks to come, and the tears, there would be time for those later, but for now, I had to get some sleep, and I prayed my mom was sleeping, too. Tomorrow, I knew, would be a very long day for all of us.