About 2 months ago I returned back from a long vacation. I rode the London Eye, crossed the London Bridge, and walked by the London Tower, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Parliament. I saw Windsor Castle (and its changing of the guards), Roman baths, and all 5,000 years of Stonehenge. I sat in a church service at Westminster Abbey. I got tickets to Wimbledon’s Centre Court and witnessed Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Serena Williams all win in the Final 16 round. I drank ample amounts of local gin, devoured hearty fish and chips, and ate at top notch establishments.
I wandered through the streets of Dublin and Belfast, and explored the small towns of Cork, Killarney, and Galway. I looked down from the 700+ ft Cliffs of Moher, toured through the Ring of Kerry, and stepped across Giant’s Causeway and Carrick a Rede Bridge. I kissed the good ol’ Blarney Stone. I learned in-depth history of the Titanic and stood where it was conceived 115 years ago. I tried some outstanding Irish whiskeys, slurped up delicious Irish stew, and enjoyed some amazing local restaurants.
I trekked the hilly, city streets of edgy Glasgow and picturesque Edinburgh. I meandered my way through the Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish highlands, while skipping rocks across the beautiful fog-covered Loch Lomond. I perused through Stirling Castle and saw the William Wallace Monument, where he died in battle over 700 years ago (go Braveheart!). I enjoyed watching The Open Championship and seeing Tiger Woods, in person, almost become victorious again and shock the world. I finally converted to liking Scotch after tasting local varieties, and indulged in a couple magnificent 5-star restaurants.
But almost immediately after I got back home, the excitement faded quickly. In fact, I received a hard punch to the gut.
“The doctor told me I have Stage IV Cirrhosis.”
Who hardly ever drinks. Who is not diabetic. Who is certainly not obese. And who is free of hepatitis. What was discovered and diagnosed as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) about a year ago has now progressed to cirrhosis. It’s simply genetic. Her liver is replacing healthy tissue with scar tissue, and at some point this will lead to liver failure unless she eventually qualifies for a donor list and a transplant operation comes to fruition.
My mother has received the shitty end of the stick so many times in her life. But it seemingly frustrates me more than it does her. It’s incredible how laissez-faire she can be sometimes. She talks about serious things in such a matter-of-fact way.
This past weekend I paid her a visit in Charlotte, and one afternoon we hung out by her pool. The birds were chirping, cicadas buzzing, and sun beaming. I watched her wading through the water, tossing out leaves from the surface, and enjoying the simplicity of the moment. All 66 years of her.
I lounged on the pool deck and just observed. Glad to be in her presence. And then the 32+ years that I’ve known her swirled like a montage through my mind…
The years that she raised me, without a strong father figure.
The years from age 5 until age 16 that she dropped me off and picked me up from so many basketball and baseball practices. Everything from school teams, to rec teams, to travel teams. And she attended almost every game.
The times that I’ve witnessed her break down and cry. Two of those times ending in divorce. The first time I hid in the closet downstairs as a 5 year old, while the confrontation and despair occurred at the front door. The second time I was returning from high school basketball practice as a 15 year old, only to find a U-Haul truck being loaded in the driveway. This time, I walked downstairs and approached the situation face-to-face by shaking his hand goodbye and consoling my sobbing Mother thereafter.
The Stouffers meals, Hamburger Helper, and other easy-prep dinners she’d toss together (she’s never really been an avid cook). But hey, she kept me fed growing up.
The trip we took to Universal Studios after her first divorce, and how the Beetlejuice actor was hitting on her in front of everyone while doing his skit. Awkward, yes…but I was too young at the time to fully understand it.
The handful of years that I neglected or disrespected her while being a stereotypical, selfish teenager. I was full of resentment back then.
The moments when she reminisces and repeats a story that I’ve heard a million times over. I have a different perspective on some of these stories, but I tend to just let her enjoy her own happy thoughts and beliefs. Especially when it’s one of the many boastful stories she has about me.
The youthful days when she told me to be home for dinner, and I disobeyed while continuing to play with my childhood friends. God forbid I missed that extra game of basketball, Capture the Flag, Fireball Island, or setting off fireworks and smoke bombs in the middle of the street. When her patience finally reached its limit, her voice could somehow project throughout the entire neighborhood to call me home.
The times she hung out with my previous girlfriends. And how she was always able to form a quick connection. A couple of them stay in touch with her to this day.
The gastrointestinal pain I’ve seen her experience over the last year and a half. And the surgeries she’s endured as a result. It makes me cringe, but she’s finally
pain free for the first time in a long time.
The hundreds of movies, brunches, dinners, plays, or musicals that I’ve taken her to during my adult years. My favorite one is always the most recent one, because I really only care about spending the moment with her…everything else is just a stage with props.
The school years when she expected straight A’s and never pressed me about it. Fortunately I always delivered for her.
The night I was about to get arrested as an inebriated 17 year old, and she drove across the city to pick me up at 3:00am. She played off the situation with the cop very well. I paid the $110 fine and managed to stay out of jail for the night.
The numerous trips we took to West Virginia to visit my grandparents and other relatives. She has always prioritized family. Honestly, I don’t think much else really matters to her.
The thousands of conversations we’ve had, and how she responds with an entirely new tangent…in no way related to what we were just discussing. Yet she always remembers what I said. Somehow.
The minute the engine died in her van while we were en route to West Virginia to visit relatives. The 4-hour transit ended up taking 12 hours, and the engine needed to be replaced. I was maybe 8 years old, but I could see how distraught she was. It was the first time I remember telling my Mother that I loved her.
The time she helped me setup for a wedding that I planned in downtown Charlotte. As a perfectionist in these scenarios, I was certainly hard on her that day. But she did a hell of a job, and the wedding was stunning and flawless.
The endless number of times I’ve gifted her unique pieces of jewelry, from all of my travel destinations or just as gifts for the holidays. She has worn every single piece, almost always within the same weekend.
The nights when she would “chaperone” my high school friends that came over to hang out. She knew what we were doing, but she was never a burden on us. She allowed me to have more freedom than most kids.
During one of our conversations this past weekend (when I was offering unsolicited help) my Mother told me, “I’m not gonna live forever ya know.”
Obviously she’s right. One of my flaws is that I tend to think that I can always do something to better a situation. I’m not the best at being emotionally supportive, but rather the love languages that I most commonly express are Acts of Service and Quality Time. In this case, there’s only so much that I can do. Quality Time is far superior now.
At first, her health status would put my mind in deep, dark corners…but I’m trying my best to be better about it. Actually, during her most recent appointment a couple weeks ago, the liver specialist said he has seen patients in the same state as my Mother go on to live another 10 years. 10 years! That was the most encouraging thing I’ve ever heard, and that level of hope made my entire year.
When my Father passed away 8 years ago, it was a sudden occurrence. I never had the chance to process through the turmoil of emotions beforehand. That juncture in my life was a turning point for me, when I really began valuing and emphasizing the importance of the moment, and time in general. Since then, I’ve always tried my best to capitalize on the moments spent with my Mother. And she certainly appreciates it.
I know that I may get 10 more years with my Mother. I know that at any point, her prognosis could also change. I know that if my Mother eventually qualifies to be on a donor list that there’s a far greater demand for livers than there is a supply. I know that there’s a serious, inherent risk in receiving a liver transplant operation…especially for someone around her age. I know that if it came down to it and either my brother or I qualified to be a live donor for our Mother, we would do it in a heartbeat. I also know that there’s a serious, inherent risk in being a live, liver donor. At the end of the day, I know what I have ahead of me.
But much like how the high of an amazing trip can be wiped away in an instant…I can also let the fear fade away from all of this. The memories of my trip will always be there, and the nostalgia will never cease…just like it never has with my Mother. What matters most is that I love my Mother, and that I express this as best as I can. Likewise, that I make sure to process the necessary emotions when I should, to take care of myself mentally and physically, and to be the optimistic rock that she’s going to need. Those are things I can
control, and I owe it to her to do so. After all, she’s given me 32+ years of life and memories that have shaped me into who I am today. My goal is to give her the best memories in return.