Sunday, November 23, 2008

Heart of a Lion

By Cate Cavanagh

Here I was again. From the time I was nine each time my mom went to the hospital I would wonder "Is this it?". "Will she survive?".

My mother became disabled from a massive stroke when I was nine and what followed was a life in which she was isolated by the loss of speech which left her uttering only a garbled jumble of words that only I learned to understand. Despite this severe speech limitation and shuffling walk which was also an effect of her massive stroke, she was well liked and respected by all she met.

During our life together there were more trips to the emergency room and subsequent hospitalizations than I can count. Each time I would ask myself--”Is this it?”

During what was to become her last year, I began to look at the very real possibility that I might lose her. I was terrified. A large part of who I was would be gone as well. After all I had been her “translator” and advocate since my childhood. I suddenly realized looking out for my mother was a life purpose. How would I fill that part of me that would be buried with her?

She was admitted and this time, due to high fevers, there were days she not know me or afterwards recall that I had been there everyday for hours to give her full care. Each day that she did not know me I worried if she had had another stroke, would she survive and if she did, would she ever remember me again? I wondered when did she become so fragile? In my mind she had always been and still was a fighter and I wanted “her” back!

But I also finally realized, despite all the coming back from every medical emergency possible, that she was after all mortal. It is so strange when you have indomitable people in your life. Even though you know better it just seems they will always be there. It suddenly dawned on me she could leave at any time. I know this material life is not eternal but I suddenly realized that the question was also not so much would she survive but, how could I if she didn‘t? Our lives had ever been intertwined. From the age of nine I was her link to all things that normalized her life. So much of my life had been wrapped around my mother how would I survive when the need to be, my purpose, would be gone? I then realized my worries were as much about me as about her. Seeing her in a hospital bed yet again pressed that life long question upon me once again. I wondered how much she, a ninety-three year old woman, now totally helpless and dependent on total care, could take. She seemed so small, like a broken doll but unlike a broken doll she had her mental faculties trapped in a body no one but me could understand. No one but me could hear her voice which is why I was always her voice.

I realized that as she continued to become repeatedly ill her last year I evolved from not wanting her to leave me to wanting what was best for her.

I am not a religious person but I am a spiritual one and I realized it was time for me to pray. I prayed for the outcome that would be for her greater good whether I would understand it not, whether I wanted it or not. I prayed with trust that the Creator I believed in would deem what the best was and I especially prayed that I would accept it.

In praying for surviving without mom, I had great cause to think on what I had learned from her. I had learned to laugh no matter what, that the mind is stronger than the body, to live life with faith and never quit.

The next she passed away. She was almost ninety-three. A good long age, many would say but, her life (and mine) was one of harsh battles with her increasing disabilities but you know what? At her passing, she survived seventeen heart attacks and more than twenty strokes and the ravages of Parkinson’s. It was not until she was eighty-eight that she was no longer capable of walking at all. It was not until her final year that she began to need nitroglycerin, oxygen and suffered numerous bouts of aspiration pneumonia. It was one such bout that compromised her heart causing her to “cross” in her sleep.

I realized she was my life model as she never gave up! She loved to laugh with family and friends, take herself to the movies while I was at work and overindulge my daughter with ice cream.

I look back now and how she loved of seizing her freedom, cane and all, to leave the house without a note or a call for as long as she wished. I remember how these antics use to frighten and infuriate me. Yet now I feel a great pride.

But I I hold within me the life spirit she possessed. I honor and remember this for this is her legacy. Ironically I honor the will, strength, determination and stubbornness that used to frustrate me so much because I know she taught me the survival tools I needed and used myself so many times in my own life. She also influenced my career. All the advocating I did for her made me a superb disabilities specialist and advocate. Because I had to be her voice, I became intellectually outspoken at a very early age. The skills I learned as a child as a result of advocating for my mother has made me the effective communicator I am today.

Though she is gone for a while I am still disoriented by her passing. I have not yet gotten accustomed to the fact that there will be no more emergency calls or plans to see her for dinner.

But since I have inherited her stubborn streak single mindedness of purpose when I have to this is when I feel her closest to me--when I am not giving in.

In her own way she was a master magician-defying the diagnosis and prognosis of all doctors until she passed at the age of ninety-three! Magic is a matter of the mind after all...

For a glimpse of the healing of magic view this book trailer:

HER GODMOTHER BOOK TRAILER, Produced by Valkyrie Publishing,

Available at fine bookstores and and

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