When I was five, I wasn't sure what was going to become of me. I wasn't sure where my life would lead me, or if I would have a life at all. I didn't think about death or dying all that much, although I knew it was a very real possibility. I didn't know what would come after - I was only five.
By the hushed tones of the countless conversations that included the occasional glance in my direction, I knew that death couldn't be a good thing. If it was a good thing, then why was everyone whispering? I knew that death had to be one of those big things that mothers and fathers would always say to their children, "We'll talk about it later when you're old enough to understand." I wasn't sure we were going to have the chance to talk about it. I wasn't sure there was going to be a later.
I remember walking into those sterile rooms where needles waited to poke me, scalpels waited to cut me, and the nurses and doctors would whisper with my mother. Sometimes, there were pictures on the walls of teddy bears, or beautiful landscapes, or mothers with their children. They didn't make me feel any less scared. They just gave me something to focus on while I was poked, prodded, sliced into, or I heard the whispered words between the medical staff and my mother.
I don't recall the times I would slip away from my mother, my grandparents, and a few times my Kindergarten teacher at school. I only remember, waking up to faces of strength that masked grave concern. Inside I was a jumbled mess of not knowing - not understanding; not being old enough to understand.
When I was nearly six, I waved goodbye to my best and only friend, my sister, out the back window of my grandparents Grand Marquis. We began the trip to St. Paul, from which I was not certain I would return. My mother sat next to me, staring straight ahead as my grandfather drove. It was a six hundred mile trip in silence. My grandmother read her book. My mother stared ahead or out the window. I often wonder what it was she thought about that day. When I grew tired, I laid my head in her lap and slept. I was safe in the moment and that was all that mattered.
I remember being awakened in the early morning hours of the following day by my mother. She hugged me that morning in the privacy of our room in the home of my grandfather's relatives. That hug lasted a bit longer than most, and I heard her exhale. I will never forget that exhale. It was the kind of exhale that comes before the moment of truth.
The last thing I remembered as I was wheeled down the hall to the operating room was my mother's face. Her eyes glistened, like mine did when I cried. I never saw my mother cry before. The last thing I heard was my mother's whispered voice saying, "I love you."
Hours later, my eyes fluttered opened to the sight of my mother sitting next to my bed. She was still weeping softly as she waited; waited for the answer of life or death. Would I, or would I not awaken? As I murmured in my waking, I saw a smile instill itself on my mother's face. A single tear slid down her cheek while she slipped her fingers into mine and squeezed. She needn't have said a single word. All she had to say was already enclosed between our hands.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom - 40 years later.