Five years ago I woke up in the middle the night certain my mom had died. She’d had surgery a couple days prior and wasn’t rebounding as quickly as they’d hoped; her Dr’s made 3 critical errors during this minor, routine surgery. I was worried. It was 1am in Colorado and midnight in Oregon. I slept restlessly for a few hours and woke up the following morning to a phone call from my dad, “Mom’s not doing well. The Dr. just took her into a surgery he referred to as a ‘Hail Mary’ and they don’t think she’s going to make it. She started crashing at midnight…”. I couldn’t breathe. Kevin’s parents booked me a flight immediately so I could get to her as quickly as possible; something for which I’m incredibly grateful. Once in Oregon, my mom’s dear friend, Jean, picked me up from the airport and we drove four hours to the hospital where my mom had survived surgery but was still expected to die. I stayed at her bedside in the ICU for 4 weeks while her body fought to survive. I prayed and cried and had moments of laughter and reprieve while spending time with family and friends in the waiting room. So much happened over the course of the next few months. My mom endured too many operations to count, she’d crash one moment and rebound the next. A few weeks into this her dad died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm. My mom lay unaware of his passing while still on life support. We held my grandpa’s funeral and buried him without her. At the time we thought we were waiting for her to die and anticipated another burial but, as it turns out, we were waiting for her to live. After nearly 50 days, beating every odd, the ventilator was removed; she was conscious and breathing on her own. She spent 111 consecutive days in the hospital. She’s even died once more since then (I wrote about it here). Her battle continues uphill and while her quality of life has decreased drastically, she does still have life in her.
Long term suffering is an excruciating weight to bear. My mom is burdened with pain and suffering each day of her life; physically and emotionally. She’s often lonely, as many who endure life changing and debilitating illnesses are but she manages to look on the bright side much of the time. She’s more frail and fragile than I ever thought she’d be at 62. She and my dad cannot go on vacation or plan too far into the future as her condition and pain are unpredictable. My parents’ lives are not where they imagined they’d be at this stage of life; ongoing suffering and insurmountable medical bills but they continue to press on. I’ve learned so much from their ability to keep moving forward and accept where the Lord has them. I wish I were more like them in that way; I wish I questioned less and accepted more. It’s been difficult watching her suffer and seeing her change so profoundly from her once vibrant, fiery self; I miss her but I’m grateful for her example even though she’s not what she once was.
Throughout this season, the valuable lessons we’ve all learned exceed our need to understand why she has to endure long term suffering. I think when my mom died the first time she saved us all; it brought us all to our knees and forced us into accepting that we do not have ultimate control over the course of our lives. While she has received exceptional medical care this side of that initial surgery, there is only one reason she’s still with us today and that is because the Lord isn’t done with her yet. I often wonder if the hospital is her mission field. The second time she was on life support there were more than 30 hospital staffers who asked our permission to visit her in the ICU and say goodbye; what a testament to the impact she has on people. On one of my recent visits she asked me to sing for the kind Indian man who had been cleaning the many hospital rooms she inhabited over the years because she knew of his love for music (believe it or not, I obliged because when Pam asks you to sing, you sing…and that is an accurate depiction of my life from about 2-19) My mom is a treasure. She can still frustrate me more than anyone on earth but I love that because she’s my mom and that’s real life. She isn’t perfect and hasn’t dealt with this perfectly but she has taught me more about endurance and faith in these last few years than I could have hoped to learn in a lifetime.
There is great opportunity in long term suffering. Yes, it entails, grief, pain and loss on a continual basis but it also provides us with an opportunity to love deeper, to serve more faithfully and to be present in every moment we’re granted.
Suffering not only takes; it gives if you’re willing to look for its gifts.
I’m so proud of my miracle momma. I worry every day about her life and wonder how much time we have left together but I’ll tell you, I never would have imagined I’d be writing about her survival today after everything she’s been through since it all began 5 years ago.
Rubina and Grammy (one of my favorite photos)