A bit over three weeks ago, I got a frantic call from my dad. My mom had been hospitalized after she complained of a headache and then collapsed. The doctors, he said, were investigating, but didn’t yet know what was wrong.
A few hours later, he called back choked up. “You better get down here,” he said. The doctors had found an aneurysm and rushed her into emergency surgery. The surgeon was unable to repair the aneurysm because her arteries were too fragile. She was not expected to survive.
I made the fastest plane reservation I could find. A day and a half later, I was in the air, headed to Florida. I met my wife at the airport and we went to my parents’ house in Cape Coral, where I’d lived from the time I was in high school until I moved out for good, nearly 40 years ago.
Florida is, I’m told, the world’s #5 hotspot for COVID-19. Southwest Florida is deep, deep Trump territory: pickups with enormous “TRUMP 2020” flags, huge “Trump!” signs along the side of the road, and not a mask in sight. These people believe, I mean really believe, that COVID-19 is a Democrat hoax and masks are a ommunist plot.
And they’re dying for that belief. Visiting my mom in the hospital was like stepping into the set of a disaster movie, or maybe a developing nation. So many patients, the hospital was parking people on stretchers in the halls.
By the time I got to the hospital to see her, my mom had been moved out of the ICU, because, they said, they had 30 people in line for that bed behind her. When I visited, she was awake and alert, and her mind was still as sharp as always. (She had some scorching things to say about late-stage capitalism vis-à-vis American healthcare, in fact.)
She improved rapidly over the next few days. When her doctor was convinced she was no longer bleeding internally, he sent her home–not because she was ready to come home, but because they needed the bed.
My mom has two gorgeous Tonkinese cats.
Her cats were overjoyed to see her, even though she was weak AF.
My sister, my wife, my dad, and I all helped care for her. The doctors had told us to expect the worst–“She could go to sleep and never wake up,” her surgeon said–but my mom is a resilient woman and she doesn’t follow anyone’s script. I went down to Florida believing I would never see her again, but it turns out it’s dangerous to count her out of anything.
five days after being released from the hospital, she was already up and around, reading and cuddling with her cats.
Two weeks after she was released from the hospital, you’d never know there’d been anything wrong with her.
Health care professionals are still visiting her at home–they did release her from the hospital way before they should have, after all–but man, I gotta say, my mom is awesome.
Her cats decided my jacket was theirs.
The entire time I’ve been down here, we played a game called “Franklin moves his jacket somewhere the cats can’t get to it and the cats find it and sleep on it.”
The kitchen in my parents’ house has recessed, indirect lighting in the ceiling. Whenever I went to cook, one of her cats, Thelma (they’re called Thelma and Louise, for reasons that are obvious when you meet them), would jump from floor to chair to counter to refrigerator to lightwell and sit in the lightwell watching me. Silently judging me. Inspecting all that I did, which clearly did not rise to her standards.
I am not very good at handling grief. My girlfriend Zaiah says I share emotions like joy and excitement easily, but I have very little experience with things like sadness and grief.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve never lost someone close to me. I’ve never attended a funeral. I think few people my age have been so fortunate.
My parents are both in their 80s. There will come a time when they are no longer here. The older I get, the more grateful I am to them; they did a bang-up job raising me. Even though I only see them once every few years or so, I’m still not sure I’m ready for a world without them.
Right now I’m in Orlando with my wife, working on an RV we hope to drive cross country late this year, stopping at abandoned amusement parks to do photography along the way. Next week I fly back to Portland.
I am so incredibly relieved that my mom is doing well that I can’t even express it in words. I am profoundly grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with her.
Mom, you’re awesome. Thank you. For everything.