“But something went wrong. For some reason, the surgeons had gotten pulled away from [my mother], mid-surgery, and left her open on the operating table for hours. A blood clot formed, causing her to have a stroke, which paralyzed the right half of her body. Everything had changed in an instant, and she wasn’t to blame for any of it.”
I grew up hiking, sledding, ice skating, climbing trees, and camping–all things which my mother taught me about. She also taught me how to sew, cook, clean, write, draw, paint, use power tools, do laundry, make my bed, decorate my house, eat a balanced diet, and so much more. As far back as my memories go, I can recall seeing my mom skillfully making Halloween costumes for all of my brothers and myself every year. I remember seeing her make delicious meals for us three times a day, bake beautiful and tasty cakes for our birthdays, and keep our pantry and fridge stocked with healthy snacks and homemade treats. She kept a vegetable garden in a large portion of our back yard and colorful flowers in pots lining our porch every summer. I recall often walking into our garage-turned-wood-shop and seeing her behind a set of safety goggles as she carefully used the band saw which my father had given her as a birthday gift. She regularly painted stunning images onto random slabs of wood or scraps of paper, creating masterpieces out of ordinary and uninteresting things. She took pictures of every adventure any of us kids experienced, whether it was family road trips across the country or our first softball or baseball game. She helped turn my ideas for school projects into impressive and award-winning realities. My mother’s hands have always been some of the most talented and creatively gifted of any I’ve known.
When I was nine, my mom started having chronic headaches, and shortly after was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was about the size of her fist, and we were surprised to learn that she’d had it her entire life. It was a benign mass of skin, tooth, and hair that had attached itself to her brain before she was even born. For over 30 years she never experienced any adverse effects from it. She had a full childhood, graduated high school and college, got married, bore four healthy children, and was living the happy life she had dreamed about when it was discovered.
After consulting with various medical professionals, she was given the choice to either leave the tumor as it was and deal with constant pain and an early death, or risk a very intense surgery to remove it. To her, the choice was obvious: she had a better chance of living out her life fully if she had the surgery.
We all prayed and fasted as fervently as possible that the surgery would all go well for mom. And we had complete faith that she would come out of it fine.
But something went wrong. For some reason, the surgeons had gotten pulled away from her, mid-surgery, and left her open on the operating table for hours. A blood clot formed, causing her to have a stroke, which paralyzed the right half of her body. Everything had changed in an instant, and she wasn’t to blame for any of it. Her beautiful handwriting was gone. She could no longer paint or draw. She couldn’t drive a car. She couldn’t keep a garden or cook meals for her family. She couldn’t even speak any of the words her mind could think. She had suddenly become a talented and gifted mind living in a broken and seemingly useless body.
As she came out of surgery, and reality set in for her, my mom knew life wouldn’t be the same. She wasn’t sure exactly how to proceed from that point. But no matter what, she was determined to move forward. So that’s what she focused on doing.
She refused a handicapped pass for our car; she explained in her slurred and broken words that she wasn’t handicapped, just a little sick at the moment. At one point she approached my dad, and humbly explained that she’d understand if he wanted to divorce her and move on with life so that she wouldn’t burden him. My dad looked at her, flabbergasted, and sternly replied, “I married you for eternity. This is just a part of it.”
Every day for weeks and months, we had friends drop off meals at our home and offer help and support for our family while mom was recovering. Slowly but surely, she went from being bed-ridden, to sitting in a wheel chair, to using a walker, to limping around on her own, and to eventually driving herself to the gym three days a week to exercise.
Now, she is a totally different woman from the one who came home from the hospital that day. She has recovered beyond what any of those doctors ever expected. She can walk up and down stairs. She talks and carries on conversations in person and over the phone. She gardens relentlessly every summer. She drives from the farm in the country, where she and my dad live, into town to run errands and buy groceries. She makes my dad lunch for work and loves to try cooking new recipes. She uses that slightly withered right hand to write notes to put in care packages and to lovingly sign birthday cards for each of us every year.
The list of things my mother cannot do herself is very short. And for those things, I always tell her, “That’s okay mom. We’ll do that when we’re resurrected after this life.”
She has passed her cheerful and optimistic way of thinking onto me and each of my siblings. The things I have learned from my beautifully imperfect mother are truly limitless. Aside from the many life skills she taught, I’ve learned four main life lessons that I couldn’t have learned any other way, all of which have influenced me in everything I do.
1. Forgive others no matter what they do to you. My parents both agreed that they didn’t want to sue the hospital or surgeons for the mistake. Trudging through a messy lawsuit wouldn’t have gotten my mom’s abilities back, and putting my mom through an ordeal like that would have done more damage than good–both mentally and emotionally. My dad made certain that the medical professionals who were responsible felt remorse and guilt for what they had done, and then simply asked for the best physical rehabilitation available. Clinging to anger and vengeance would have prevented much good in our lives. We would have been so overcome with bitterness and sorrow that we would have missed out on the love and compassion that developed within each of us.
2. Find purpose in your adversity. When asked about her ordeal, my mom always says she would do it over a thousand times just to have the closeness we gained and lessons we all learned from it. The frustrating limits she suddenly experienced were worth the perspective she gained, the patience she learned, and the tender love she was able to feel toward others. It was worth the bonds and friendships my siblings and I created as we relied on one another throughout her recovery. The things that we couldn’t have learned in any other way have made the struggles and challenges invaluable. Her struggles have not been in vain, and understanding the good that has come from them has given them purpose and value.
3. Speak well of others. Everyone has flaws. That’s a given. Not only is it rude to point them out, but when you do that’s all you focus on. Every time you see or think something negative about someone, think of something positive too. When you do this, you’ll find that it’s easier to love others, and others will find it easier to love you back.
4. Tenaciously pursue your goals. Don’t give up. Don’t let others determine how you feel about yourself and your situation. Your life is yours to navigate, and you determine much of where you’ll go and what you’ll do based on your attitude and outlook on the future. Keep pressing forward no matter the odds or opposition that comes your way.
What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned from your mother? What qualities does she have that deserve sharing and honoring this Mother’s Day?