Months before, my mom waffled about having the procedure. Her aorta was closing fast, surgery the only option. But my mother elevates stubbornness to an art-form. She'd said, "Maybe it's best to leave it in God's hands and let me live the rest of my life as is."
"Your grandchildren are counting on you," I'd told her. Absolutely shameless, sure, but I played the "grandkid card" nonetheless.
It worked. Mom decided to have the procedure. I told my winter-bound Florida "snow-bird" mother to get her dancing heels ready 'cause the procedure would go great.
The family gathered on the day of the operation, three sons and their families. We sat in the cold, sterile waiting room, chugging bad coffee, killing time by reminiscing. Every embarrassing tale from my childhood was dragged out and beaten like a rug. Then we had even more bad coffee.
The operation went well. So well the surgeon pronounced the procedure as "boring." "Boring's" good in this case.
Hours after the operation, my wife and I visited Mom in Intensive Care.
And I totally lost it.
I wasn't prepared.
My mother, dear God, I didn't recognize her.
She uttered disembodied, agonized "oh's" every few seconds, her eyes wandering, milky and lost. She looked like she'd lost twenty pounds in ten hours. I wanted to hold her, kiss her cheek, afraid I'd break her.
There was no way of letting her know how much I loved her.
Later that same day, I visited again, dreading what I'd find.
I couldn't believe the difference. Sitting up in a chair, she welcomed me. I helped feed her breakfast, administer her medicine, scratch her neck. When she started griping about things, I thought, "Yes! My warrior mother's back!"
All past grievances, annoyances, racial and political differences I'd had with her jettisoned out of the room.
My Mom. The angel who raised me, formed me, talked me through things. Protected me from monsters under the bed and monsters in the school yard.
I cradled her head as gently as I could, said, "Mom, I love you. I'll do anything I can for you."