Happy anniversary to Brent and me! Nine years of pugs, love, and Dance Dance Revolution.
In honor of this very special day, I have a story about us. It will have to be a two-parter because it’s a tad long.
This story begins with my mom’s kidneys failing.
She had been feeling increasingly ill in the two months leading up to her hospitalization. The sickness continued to intensify and she went from assuming her ailment was merely a tenacious brand of flu to wondering if perhaps she was going to die. It was at that point when she finally took herself to the hospital.
Once at the hospital, the doctors recognized that her kidneys were shutting down. Having no kidney specialist in town, they packed my mom into an ambulance that sped her to Topeka, 50 miles away.
Brent would like me to pause here and remind everyone of the SNL skit where Tim Meadows as Dr. Poop says, “I can’t do anything to help you, but I can do the Robot. That’ll be five thousand dollars.”
I was at work when I got the news about my mom. Actually, I had stepped out and when I returned, my supervisor Katie came to my desk and told me that Brent had called and that it was important that I call him back immediately. Her tone was grave. You don’t get a message like that, in a tone like that, without something being terribly wrong. I reached for the phone, feeling mortal dread.
Then Katie continued on, saying that Brent also told her that this was serious and that if there was ever a time for me to not call him back, this was not the time, because this was an emergency.
Despite the pressure storm going on in my head and the conviction that someone I loved was badly hurt or dead, the second part of Brent’s message gave me a teeny tiny reason to smile. For some reason I heard Brent saying these words to Katie in his Sean Connery voice. “Sooo dramatic,” I thought fondly, before the dread settled back in and I called him back.
The next ten days were hard. Scary, stressful, and exhausting. Mom was barely conscious and the doctors couldn’t figure out why her kidneys were failing. They decided to hold off on dialysis until they could get additional test results back. We had no idea what was going to happen or if she was even going to pull through. We were told that at the very least, she would be on dialysis for the rest of her life.
Topeka is about 20 miles from where Brent and I live, and this was my first experience with caring for a sick parent – trying to balance being there for my mom and being a good caretaker, knowing the right questions to ask the doctors and how to advocate for her in an intimidating environment, while at the same time working my normal job and trying to hold in all the stress so that I could make enough money to be able to swing rent and pay for the gas to drive to and from the hospital. Back then I drove this enormous truck and I remember the drive home from the hospital one night, glancing down at gas gauge and wanting to cry over how fast the needle was dropping.
For various reasons, it was very difficult for my stepfather to make it to Topeka to be with my mom. I had taken a couple days off work and while Katie would have given me as much time as I needed, I was anxious about money. I made the plan to go back to work my normal hours and then head to the hospital right when I got off work. I thought it was a good enough plan.
Brent disagreed. He said that he didn’t want my mom to find herself sick and alone in the hospital, even if she was mostly out of it. Brent worked third shift, and he decided that he would drive to Topeka right after work and stay until I got there after my shift. “I’ll just sleep in her room, and if she needs anything, I’ll be right there to help her,” he told me.
And he was. Each afternoon I would walk into my mom’s room, with its beeping machines and bright lights, and I’d see my mom there, fast asleep and still breathing, but so very weak. Seeing her so sick and disoriented made me feel untethered, as if in the absence of her direct awareness and attention, I was just flapping in the wind.
You know, it’s easy to see your parents’ faults, where they messed up with you, and all that is wrong with your relationship with them. What’s not always as clear are the things they got right, that they accomplished so well and so consistently, day in and day out of your entire life. These comforts are such a natural part of our existence, that you don’t notice them anymore that you do blinking or breathing.
Or maybe that is just me. Because when I was sitting with my mom in the hospital, her being barely responsive, I saw it clearly, the extraordinary love that she has given me my entire life. That everywhere I had been and all I had done, her unconditional love was right there with me. Lump in throat, I would marvel that something as mundane as that that sterile-looking hospital bed could hold such a precious being.
And then I would look over at Brent, who would be trying to doze in this vinyl recliner that looked only a little bit more comfortable than the floor. He’d have his blanket around him and a book on his lap. Amid all the fear and uncertainty, there he was – my love, my steady support, my hero, crunched into that awful chair, bleary eyed and exhausted himself, but happy to see me.
Psst, check out Part 2 here.