“She Smiles” – A Story for Mother’s Day

IMG_0450If you know me or if you follow my blog, you know that my mother has been sick most of my life. (Click here for my last post about her or here for my Spoken Word.) She never ceases to inspire me, which is why I’m constantly writing about her.

This mother’s day, I am not home. Instead, I’m on campus stressing about getting this A on my French Final -_- However, I won’t let this Mother’s Day go by without sharing a piece of my mom with you all. It was originally titled, “Names”, however, for the sake of this day as well as this post, I’ll call it: “She Smiles”. This is the story of my most recent visit to the hospital. I’m warning you now, it’s a story. So, if you’re not a reader, the theme is: Aside from God, there is no love like a mother’s love. I’m so blessed to have a mother who’s strength is in her faith, not body.

Here we go.

“She Smiles” by Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien

I called her 4 times already and the day had just begun. I usually call her twice – once in the morning and the other time at night. Something was wrong. Nobody was answering the phone.

                I tried again. It went to voicemail.

I started to panic. Where is she? She didn’t tell me she was going out. I don’t think she has a doctor’s appointment today. She would’ve told me. She always tells me these things. She tells me everything.

Beginning to get agitated, I called for the umpteenth time that day. My thoughts flew everywhere as I considered every possible disaster there could’ve been. My mind was saved by the answering of the phone. It was my aunt. She let me know that “she’s alright…she’s in the hospital, but she’s alright. She had some problems breathing, so I came by to take her. Don’t worry, don’t worry.” We both hung up at the same time.

So, I didn’t worry. I was accustomed to her being in the hospital all the time. She’d been sick for more than half of my life. Yeah, I was used to it.

I should’ve known better.

The skies tried to tell me something that day. The weather was moist, humid and God was crying. I always would say that when it rained. God was crying.

Everything moved like a scene out of The Matrix that day – the rain drops, the cars whizzing past, the conversations in my ear. She eventually called.

“Mommy! I’ve been calling all day. You know I don’t like when you don’t answer.”

“I know and I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m okay, though…okay?” she comforted.

“You scared me.”

“Sorry, Ta. Just know that I’m okay.”

“Hm…what happened?” I was hesitant to forgive her, but only because she had me worrying. I have a face carved out of stone but a heart made of mush when it comes to her. I am not sensitive whatsoever but she brings that side out of me. It’s crazy, huh? That a child can worry so much about their mother? In this case, it’s both ways.

“I was having trouble breathing so I went to get it checked out. They’re taking a few tests on me and then I’ll come home.” My mother assured me.

“I’m coming home, too… this weekend. So, I’ll see you soon.”

“See you. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mommy.” I felt immensely comforted after I heard her voice. I was a bit homesick so it cheered me up that I would be leaving my campus to go home. I stopped all the worrying. It’s really crazy how the simplest things can change the darkest thoughts into lighter perspectives.

I got home Friday evening. She didn’t. The whole ride I was telling my dad that I wanted to go see Mommy. He finally caved in. Thank God for being spoiled, huh?

My brother and two sisters piled in the car as we went to go visit my mother. We were all laughs, joking about our days, chattering about how our mother didn’t answer the phone and brought us into a panic. My siblings’ story was different. They came home from school and their many sport practices with empty stomachs and to an even emptier kitchen. My mother never let her children go hungry. Even with her suffering, she’ll cook, clean…do everything. They knew something was up when they didn’t smell the tasty aroma of her cooking. Checking every room, they found her gone.

We arrived at the hospital after visiting hours but we snuck our way in. It was like a secret spy scene, like Spy Kids – Spy Kids in JFK Hospital. It was dark and all you could hear was the squeaking of wheels, the beeping of monitors, the hush of the television. Eerie, I know. That’s the hospital night life, for ya.

We bombarded into my mother’s room but quieted down when we saw her eyes were closed. I don’t remember if one of us whispered, “mommy” or if she fluttered awake on her own. She looked confused. But, I mean, who isn’t confused when they first wake up?

The confusion stayed on her face, though.

“Hi, mommy.” We all went over to her bed and kissed her gently on the cheek, one by one.

“Marge” she replied, convinced.

“Oh, Marge isn’t here. She visited?”

“No, Marge.”

Now, we were confused. Marge is the name of our cousin. She kept talking about the most random things. She talked about my cousin, spoons and eventually started stuttering. But, what got me was when she kept calling us different names. I knew she recognized us; I saw it in her eyes. She just didn’t remember our names.

I couldn’t look at her anymore. I tried not to cry, I really did. But, I couldn’t help it. I left the room; I didn’t want her to see the tears. What is going on? What is she talking about? Confusion blurred my eyes and next thing I knew, I was sobbing. You know, the kind that physically pains your heart and leaves you with hiccups.

My sister left the room next, wiping tears from her eyes. We just leaned against the wall, sniffling. We didn’t want our mom to hear. She hates when we cry.

I just didn’t understand. My mother had been sick for fourteen years. She was never mentally ill, just physically. Hip replacement, shoulder pains. I remember each surgery, what she had to go through eight times, what the family had to go through eight times.  Our lives consisted of plenty of hospital visits. We knew the smell. We breathed it.

As we attempted to blink away tears, we heard our mother’s voice from her room. I don’t quite remember what she was saying. I just knew that the voice sounded like her, but she wasn’t speaking. Our cries worsened. Our names, she didn’t remember our names.

My dad left the room, with one hand on my youngest sister’s small shoulder and the other on my brother’s back. “Let’s go… We shouldn’t have come…we shouldn’t have come…” He patted our backs as we cried, steering us out of the hospital as we heard our mom yelling. She wanted to know why we were leaving. She wanted to know what was going on. She wanted us to come back. All I could think about was how my life is a movie.

“My wife. There’s something wrong with my wife,” My father croaked. A nurse wasn’t completely convinced. My dad spoke to her in Spanish, as if she didn’t understand. She told us my mother was “fine,” handed us some tissues, and eventually went to go see for herself.  It didn’t hit me that she doubted us until later. Maybe if she took action, my mom wouldn’t have been left alone. If the nurse didn’t take so long, we would’ve known sooner of what was going on.

We left the hospital as my phone rang repeatedly. She was calling me. I was scared but I’m not so sure of what. I think it’s because I’m so used to my mom being the one so put together and gluing everyone together that I didn’t know how to react in her helplessness. Her actions were so unlike her and we had no clue whatsoever of what was going on. I didn’t answer. She was persistent, though. She kept calling and calling until I asked my father what I should do. I hate ignoring my mother. He told me to answer so I did.

“I’m sorry…I know you’re my daughter, okay? I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong…” she explained, pleadingly.

I sniffed. “It’s okay, Mommy…”

“Where’s M-M-M…”

“Mitch? He’s here…”

“Yes and M-M-M…”

“Medgina? She’s here, too.”

“And, m-m-m”

“Shermine…she’s here. You want to talk to them?” I passed my cell phone around and my mother apologized profusedly.

God was crying with us. The splatter on the windshield and the wipers that resolutely removed them were the only audible sounds in the family fan that carried us all but my mother. We were quiet on the way home. Our house was, too. We blasted the radio, hoping to get uplifted but there was an echo in our minds. Our name, she forgot out names…

The next morning, we discovered that she’d had a stroke. She went to the hospital for a minor breathing problem and ended up getting a stroke? What? How? Why is her body reacting against her? So many problems at so many different times…how does that even happen?

Those questions were left unanswered. My mother was there for months. Today makes it a year since it happened. Call it ironic but she was admitted to the hospital again last week. When I got home for Spring Break, she woke up unable to speak. Her speech is back now but the doctors don’t know what happened. They never know what’s wrong.

I’m at her bedside typing this. People all surround her with flowers and prayers and kisses. Family, friends and members from church come every single day. That’s how much they love her. That’s how much they wish they knew what was wrong. That’s how much they want her to get better.

I’m sitting here, and she whispers “sorry” and grabs me for a hug. She was sorry that I had to spend my Spring Break this way, going back and forth to the hospital. I squeezed her and told her it was okay.

As I play around with the button on her bed, I remember the time of her stroke and how she called me again to apologize…as if it was her fault she was sick. She rambled off each of our names to show me that she knew them, that she knew us.

“I knew you were my kids. I just couldn’t say your name, that’s all.”

Her speech was different now. It is different now. She used to be an eloquent speaker, but now she stutters. The words that used to come so effortlessly are now a part of her struggle. She tries so hard to recall names for things but she either can’t say them or she doesn’t remember what they’re called. It’s not so bad when she sings or prays, though. Yeah, she still does that. And, she smiles, too. Throughout it all, she smiles.


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