I am on my way home from a difficult trip to see my family. It was supposed to be a stressful trip but stressful in a different way than it ended up. I came down this weekend because my brother was supposed to go in for heart surgery on Friday morning and I offered to come and drive him and my mom to the hospital (which is about three hours away in the “big city.”)
When I called my mom after I picked up my bright yellow and black rental car, she informed me they had to reschedule the angioplasty because my brother didn’t get all the paperwork done on time. She was worried I would be upset – and I was – but I was also relieved. So instead of spending the weekend in and out of the hospital, it would be just me visiting my family. That was a big stress relief and since this is the semester I will defend my dissertation and classes start tomorrow, I know I won’t be able to come back for the rescheduled surgery. So I suppose, I really dodged a big bullet of self imposed stress.
I am always glad to spend time with my mom but this was a difficult visit. She’s been in decent health the last few times I’ve seen her but she was sick most of this visit. The surgery she had on her intestines left her with fibers in her colon that are sticky and like most sticky things, they like to stick together. This is causing her lots of cramping after she eats and a fair amount of discomfort. The doctor told her they could operate to remove them, and they will if they become a blockage, but since surgery causes them, it’s truly a catch 22. She could end up still having them or making them worse after an additional surgery.
We talked a lot about good digestive health and I told her she should start eating old fashioned oatmeal everyday, something that will hopefully help scrape out her intestines. The doctor said the fibers can go away on their own and all I can think about is EAT LOTS OF FIBER to help that along.
But I have to resign myself to one of the truths I’ve fought so hard against for the last few years with my mom: I can’t make her take care of herself. I try so hard, tell her all the good nutrition information I can, but in the end, she is the only on in charge of what she puts in her body and if she isn’t going to change her diet, there is nothing I can do to help that.
She talked a lot about my namesake this visit, telling again the old family stories I’ve become so familiar with I can recite them in my sleep. I love to hear her tell them though because they always have some magical quality I just can’t mimic.
Regina Elizabeth is my great grandmother. My maternal grandmother’s step-mom. She followed Christian Science. She died from a blockage in her intestines that she refused to have operated on. I know given my family’s genealogy, and since three of my four grandparents passed away before I was born, how unlikely it is if she had survived that blockage that I would have known her. The way my mom talks about her, I really wish I could have.
She would visit my mom while she was a child and always brought her a gift. My grandmother would tell my mom she could sit on the front steps of their flat on Cap Street in San Francisco and watch for her coming down the street but she couldn’t leave until she actually saw her. I can just see my mom, straining to see as far down the street as possible and hurling herself off the steps the second my great-grandmother’s hat brim and shopping bag could be seen down at the corner.
My mom would run up and hug her and say, “What did you bring me?” over and over, much like a puppy looking for a treat. For my mom, my great-grandmother was a bastion of strength and normalcy in a world filled with alcoholic fights fueled from anger and pain. That gift might be the only new toy she would see for weeks or months.
I pride myself on the fact that the women of my family have always been strong, holding together the tethers of often insane circumstances. But I can’t help returning to the idea that with all the strength we’ve given to others, none of us are particularly good at taking care of ourselves. I know a lot of women put themselves last in order to help and support their families, and I can understand the reason behind those choices to a point. But it seems counterintuitive at some point to keep putting yourself last.
I suppose I’m breaking that pattern simply by writing this entry, one where I’m considering the long term effects of individual choice and I hope I can keep breaking that cycle as the years progress. I want to nurture that jewel of a heart I talked about in my last #reverb10 post, and keep it healthy not just for my own sake but for the sake of those who love me.