The Next Generation

The last photo I got of Mama and me before she died. Mother’s Day, 2012.

The last photo I got of Mama and me before she died. Mother’s Day, 2012.

“I can’t die. These kids just lost their Daddy a week ago.”

The nurses were rolling her into her intensive care room as she said this. It was the first coherent thing she had said in hours, and she went right back out after her declaration.

Daddy had died suddenly in the first minutes of May 1, 2011, or maybe it was in the last minutes of April 30. In the chaos, minutes were lost. Eight days later, Mama tripped over the dog and/or the dishwasher door, fell onto their tile floor, and broke her left hip. In the hours after the surgery her pain increased instead of decreased, and she required more and more pain medicine that still didn’t work. Then she became confused from those pain medications. Then the medical personnel decided to pay attention to her heart rate which had been high since before the surgery, and with it all, they decided to move her to intensive care. Within 24 hours, she had a tube down her throat breathing for her, something she had said she never wanted again. I convinced my siblings that we should do it anyway. If I could just get her doctors to listen to me, she would pull through this charlie foxtrot. I knew that more in my heart than in my brain. I hoped my brothers and sister would forgive me if I had made the wrong choice.

I sat with Mama in the early morning hours just as dawn was breaking over the horizon. I was sitting with my legs under me, watching her chest go up and down, listening to the puff and whoosh of the ventilator and marveling at the woman she was. Even as she was struggling through the fog coming to that room, she was thinking of us, her children. She had sacrificed for us for almost fifty-six years. She had cooked countless meals after long work hours, carted us to ball games and sleepovers, mended our wounds, kissed our sick foreheads, and prayed for us without ceasing. She had saved change and worked overtime so she could buy more Christmas presents. She had been our best friend and wise counsel. She, along with my aunt, had cared for her own mother when she could no longer care for herself. I sat in that chair with the day coming to light around me, and I thought about what a phenomenon my mother was, and suddenly I was filled with the overwhelming realization that I had come from her. Half of me was her. I was a part of a long line of remarkable women the world will never know, but I did. I knew the hardships they had overcome and the lives they had touched and the love they had sewn, and I realized I was the next generation.

I realized I had a hell of a lot to live up to.

But I also realized that that was okay because I was half her, and she had been my wise counsel. I had seen her grieve her father and her mother and her mate. I had seen her age with grace. I had seen her prepare a meal for a small army and give a meal to a few less fortunate. I had seen her spoil grandchildren and find balance with her own. I had seen her talk to God, and I had seen her commune with nature. I had seen her be the sole bread winner sometimes, and I had seen a ferocity in her to which I could only ever aspire. More often I had seen a similar degree of gentleness and generosity. I had seen glimpses into her mind that was so sharp it sharpened those around her. She had shown me what I needed to know. And I was half her.

My stomach still knots up when I think about those hours in the ICU. Even now I have a difficult time articulating the gravity of the revelation that I am literally a part of her and she of me, but sometimes it sustains me. Sometimes when I wonder if I have it in me to do a thing, I think of Mama, and I remember I had it all along.

Mama lived another year and nine days after she broke her hip.

(This story in different detail is one reason I believe everyone needs family or friend at the bedside at all times, asking questions and advocating for their loved one. If you want more detail later, I will give it to you.)