One of my first clear memories is the instant I walked into my mother’s room shortly after my grandpa had been admitted to the hospital. I was probably about eight.
She was full of intense energy, curling her hair. She was focused on that, even as she seemed so chaotic and falling apart and sizzling with fear. And purpose.
It’s 4:50 am. The babies have just gone to sleep after hours of coughing, coughing, coughing. TMD walked into the room, the phone to her ear.
I asked what was going on.
‘Something is wrong with Grandpa’s heart,’ she said. Her voice was all business, with that undercurrent of tense anxiety. ‘I’m going to the hospital to see him.’
I went from tired to wide awake. In the silence of the middle of the night, I heard snatches of my sister’s voice. She’d left a message at 3:30 in the morning.
At first I thought my dad had died, or had another heart attack.
My mom issued instructions. I don’t remember what they are, now. I don’t remember if I went to the hospital or stayed home, but I know there was some purposeful order to things. I think it was the way my mom created a sense of control in a situation that was, at the heart of it, uncontrollable.
I think that’s what we do in emergencies, when the lives of those we love are threatened.
I heard ‘in the hospital.’ I heard ‘everything is okay.’ But then I realised she was talking about my mom. Something was wrong with my mom. I watched TMD’s face for clues.
She remained serious. She listened intently.
She handed me the phone to replay the message and said, ‘Before you listen to any of this, the end message is that things are okay.’
Over the years I faced many run-to-the-hospital situations. Many opportunities to experience, again and again, the calm sense of purpose, of needing to do something, to move. Because the more calm you were, the more crazy and frenetic things were under the surface.
I listened as I heard about blood clots in the brain, about my mother being blind. About tests on her brain and heart.
I called my sister, five am in my world, nine pm in hers. She filled me in. My mom had recovered from the initial problem. The doctors had an idea what was wrong, but no proof. It was probably all fine, but she needed advanced tests because the initial ones would not have picked up a stroke.
She was going to be in the hospital for a few days of tests. I should call her before 10 am her time, because that’s when all the tests started.
All I thought was how TMD cannot come home with me right now. It’s a bad time. Who, then, could come on the plane with me? I’m not legally allowed to fly with two under twos by myself, nor would I want to. This person, that person, and how would the return flights work?
Then I thought about how I wished I lived close to my family. Because even if this is nothing, I want to be moving. I want to take a purposeful shower, drive towards her, talk briskly with nurses and crack jokes with my mother.
But I want to live here.
I wrestled, wrestled, my thoughts racing but nowhere for my body to go.
This morning I sat on the floor. Hours of suppressing that need to move, of keeping a lid on the crazy that threatens to swamp us all at any time, had left me on the floor, unable to rouse the emotional or physical energy to make breakfast for my children.
Every time my grandparents were okay. After my grandfather’s bypass, after my grandmother’s dizzy spells. They went on being okay.
Right up until the time they weren’t.
I want to be moving, but I feel heavy and silent and stuck.