It was always a difficult love relationship, the one between me and mother; we were just too much alike I suppose. Family, friends, and neighbors were patient with us, with me mostly. But my leaving town young to go to away to school; coming back only briefly; marrying the most unlikely of men; divorcing him soon afterwards when there seemed to be no cause; leaving again -- but for good, just broke everything into pieces. In time, I was seen by most as spoiled, an ingrate, and not worth discussing. Période!
At age 79, mother had a massive stroke. She was in Detroit; I was in Chicago. Once I suspected something had gone terribly wrong, confirmed by neighbors, who had rushed in after my frantic calls, I arrived quickly and stayed with her in the hospital until the diagnosis made it painfully clear a couple weeks later. Doctors explained that neither time nor medicine was on mother’s side, could not be on her side. It was then that I turned with an aching heart, climbed into an ancient boat, and lovingly, yet fearfully, took hold of a rough, heavy oar and began to paddle mother safely to a destination I knew not. When I could, which was often enough, I permitted our little vessel to drift along on waves sometimes high and choppy, sometimes flat and calm, but always vast and troublesome. No one has written, at least not to my knowledge, that driftin’ on a sea of doubt and uncertainty becomes a most certain thing if only in the imagination where time stands still when hope is absent, particularly when it comes to the one you love; the one who gave you life; the one whose own life ebbs slowly away. Limbo, I grew to think, was a mean and unkind bitch!
Without a formal reference to that word, limbo, which I used often back then, I turned recently to Wikipedia, that eOmniscient place available to all seekers of the informational quick-fix. Far down in the text that defined, limbo, I located the following: “…any status where a person or project is held up, and nothing can be done until another action happens.” So with mother by my side, I drifted and paddled, paddled and drifted many a day, and when conditions forced me to take my hands off the oar, I reluctantly let go and tried to let God. I’m not good at giving up control -- not even to God, but I learned and God only knows, I have been the whole of my life, one slow learner.
Twenty-two months later, there we were, or there I was, on the floor in the emergency room where I had flung myself after screaming, “NO!” immediately following the abrupt silence of mother’s monitors as doctors frantically worked nearby – once again. I vaguely remember that a kindhearted nurse picked me up off that floor while gently dispensing words of support as the sharp tick of those same monitors started up again; I looked up and saw that mother was back. I like to think that I had called her back, and she had answered; she had returned. Our journey was not yet complete – nearly, but not quite. A mythical island was on the horizon, I could almost see it outlined through the mists that clouded my eyes as I was helped back to my feet and steadied - or were those tears that clouded my eyes as I regained my composure? One thing was plain at that precise moment; we were not yet to shore.
I acquired two friends at the university hospital that afternoon; each took turns looking after me. How they came to grace my life is not important at this telling. That they showed up on time and helped keep me safe as I tended to mother during her final weeks is what matters. One led me gently yet firmly out of the emergency room – if just to get me out of the doctors’ way, “You and your mother will be here for sometime, so you should get to know us” I was told with a kindness that never ceased to flow. Goodness flowed everyday, every night in our direction. It is amazing the angels that show themselves, when and where.
At the end of our tour, we stood at a place between buildings where the hospital and a medical center were joined by a huge overhang of decorative glass – an atrium type structure. It was explained at that moment: “This is what we here at the hospital refer to as, limbo.” “It is quiet and often empty. You should come here when you can to collect your thoughts.” And so it was that I was introduced to the place where I had dwelled emotionally for many, many months: Limbo. I looked around the elongated space, beautifully set with comfortable, plush furniture and nary a person in sight. This small space was positioned between two gigantic communities of health and welfare, added to which, was my growing faith. I had been escorted to a physical place that would allow respite during the last moments of my journey with mother. We had docked safely where, in hindsight, I was to disembark, slowly – day by day, so that mother could continue her journey alone; I was not to follow. So I sat in limbo, I sat at mother’s bedside, and I sat in limbo many times more – and I grew to understand, to accept, to finally let go, and incredibly, to let God.
Peace of mind during the most difficult stages of my grownup-being came forth during the quiet, in between moments of non-being. In the final day, I watched with grief as our ancient boat, its oar completely still, broke away from its mooring place and drifted slowly out of sight. I, who had become a mighty oarsman, was without a vessel and my dearest companion. Yet in its place, I had been given the gifts of love, wisdom, “angel” sighting, innate vision, and the ability to begin journeys of my own making - anew.
Photo: Courtesy of Gretchen Gharrett