I don’t care much for Mother’s Day. In fact, I don’t know anyone who likes to be reminded of what they’re missing. So on Sunday, May 12, 2012, I will be off the internet away from all the Twitter and FaceBook postings watching and reading all the shoutouts of Love for someone’s mother. “I Have the Best Mom in the World. She’s The Best,” they’ll say.
I’m here to tell you, they don’t have the best mother because I had the best and bravest Mom in the World.
My Mom. Marjorie Marie Gentry. I’ve been told I look a lot like her. She always knew how to laugh and tell a story. There are few times when I see a picture of her in my mind that I do not see it with a smile on her face. She is the one who taught me how to look at the world and people. To find the beauty in everything. I wish I had known more about her so I could see what traits, other than the physical, that I do share.
Sometime in her youth, which would have been in the 1930’s, she developed a problem with her tonsils. The tonsils went unchecked, the poison from the infection filtered into her blood stream which led her to develop rheumatic heart fever. I’ve never done research on this, medically speaking, I’m just going by what I was told. I don’t know whether, or how, it limited her activities at that time.
When she was 16 she married my father. From the pictures I’ve seen, you can tell of their love for one another. My father got a job working in Civil Service and my mother became a housewife.
They settled in to an apartment and their love for each other and life grew. It’s no wonder that I have a love for laughter. I seem to come by it honestly.
Six years later they were blessed with twin boys. My Mom found out she loved being a Mom.
In the small neighborhood they were living in at the time the boys were well-known. You had the small-town doctor who knew and treated everyone. He would come out for house calls and if you could make it to his home after hours, you were always welcome there for treatment. I bring this up because it was this doctor I went to for the first 20 years of my life and I got some of the greatest stories from him. He lived close by to my parents and he said in the summer when the windows were open, you could tell when the boys got in trouble. My Mother or Father called out to them combining their names as one. It wasn’t Charlie and Billy come here right this instant, it was CharlieBilly. Double trouble is what he called them. What one didn’t think of, the other would. He told me of the time my Mom was hanging up laundry out in the backyard and she looked towards the house and saw red all over the windows. Thinking the boys had cut themselves and bleeding to death, she ran to the house and found them inside in her makeup box, red lipstick everywhere. Another time she was in the kitchen washing dishes and, realizing it was way too quiet in the house, she stopped what she was doing and went in to the living room only to find both of the boys sitting atop the stereo, pulling off knobs and wires.
My parents saved up their money and bought a home in Virginia Beach. Their life was good. Camping trips to the mountains became an annual tradition. Sunday drives in the country or to the beach were something to look forward to. Time slipped by and it wouldn’t be long before the twins would graduate from high school and get ready to embark on their own life.
Sometime in the month of May, my Mom, not feeling her best, decided to visit the family doctor to see if she had caught a virus. She came away, stunned, with the news that she was pregnant.
She was ecstatic. Living in a home with a bunch of boys, she had so wished for a little girl and knew right away what she would name her. When she was a child she called her favorite baby doll Patricia Gail. She was going to name her real-life baby doll, Gail Patricia.
As she told the rest of the family, the news was not received as well as one would have hoped. When my Mom was giving birth to the twin boys, it put a strain on her heart and the doctor had cautioned her then not to have any more children. Now my Dad, he was always supportive of my Mom and I am sure he was scared for her but it was my Mom’s family that were vocal in their concerns. You didn’t have Hippa laws back then and since the family doctor felt, well, part of the family, the advice she was given was openly discussed: You should have an abortion. If you don’t, having the baby could kill you. From what I was told the doctor had taken the liberty of even scheduling a date with the hospital to have the procedure. My Mom remained steadfast. She went against her doctor’s advice and stood up to her family who were all urging her to terminate the pregnancy. My Mom wanted her baby.
The pregnancy was not an easy one and finally on January 25th, she went into labor. At the hospital attending to her, not only was the family doctor there but also a heart specialist. Her heart was under too much strain to give birth naturally and they didn’t know if she could handle a caesarian. Instead, they had her get off the bed into a squat position. With one doctor monitoring her heart, the other doctor helped ease the baby out of the birth canal. At 6:02 p.m., she got the daughter she wished for but her heart was forever changed.
On the surface, life settled back to the way it was before but with a small addition to the family. The yearly camping trips resumed. The twins graduated from school, married and moved away from the family home. In the meantime, my Mom’s visits to the doctor became more frequent. When I was about five years old, the hospital visits started. First there were stays at Norfolk General Hospital but pretty soon they couldn’t do but so much for her. She needed specialists. That’s when the visits to the National Institute of Health (or, NIH as became the common name for it within the house) began. First it became one visit to the Baltimore area each year then two. First one open heart surgery, then two. My Mom received an innovative artificial heart valve. But through all of the visits and surgeries, my Mom kept that smile on her face. She would participate in the many craft activities set up for the patients; she kept an address book (which I still have) of all the friends she made and she would write countless letters of support to them. Some friends she made even came to visit her once she returned home to Virginia Beach, such an impression she made on them.
When my Mom stayed in the hospital, the stays were usually long. My Dad and I would visit by going up there most weekends. The hallways of the hospital became my playground. I could help direct anyone in the hospital to the cafeteria or solarium or church. On the top floor of the hospital they had an outdoor area where you could go and sit or look out at the view. There were children from all over the world in the hospital and if they were able to move around, most loved being up there in the fresh air. I remember one girl from India. Don’t remember her name, but I remember sitting and talking to her, and her showing me her blue nails. Not polished blue nails, nails from lack of oxygen in her blood, blue.
Back home, I was in charge of most of the physical housework such as dusting and vacuuming but my Mom would still do everything else. As soon as she got home from a hospital visit it didn’t take her long to get back to being busy taking care of me and my father. No one will ever make fried green tomatoes as good as she could. Growing up like this was a normal life to me. I had a best friend who had a Mom who was never sick but it just never occurred to me how much different that life was compared to mine. I don’t know how my Mom did it but she made sure nothing ever missed a beat in my life.
It was one day when I was fourteen, I was coming home from my best friend’s house and saw one of my brother’s cars in the driveway. It was an unusual time for him to be there but I didn’t think anything of it. When I walked in the house I can’t remember exactly who was there but it seemed to be a flurry of activity. High pitched voices asking who was going to drive. The police had called and said my Dad had been in an accident and taken to Norfolk General Hospital. They wouldn’t give any other information. We got to the hospital and were ushered in to a room. THE ROOM for Privacy. My Dad didn’t make it. My brother was asked to identify the body. I called our Pastor. My Mom was given oxygen. The funeral took place and we began life without Dad.
Now life works out the way it’s supposed to and when it’s supposed to. One of my brothers just a few weeks earlier had become separated from his wife so it was decided he would move back home. I really don’t remember too much of that period right after the funeral. I remember being alone a lot. My Mother was grieving hard. She was lost without my Dad. My brother was grieving over the loss of his marriage and father. I went to school, spent time with my best friend and came back to a quiet home. The family was concerned over my Mom’s health but she remained physically strong. Her routine visits to the doctor were uneventful and talks began on who would take her for her scheduled exams at NIH from here-on-out.
On a Saturday night, some three months after my Dad died, I sat in the living room. Watching television, I had gotten the box of hair curlers out of my Mom’s room and was trying to roll my hair in preparation of going to church the next morning. I hated having my hair in rollers. I’ve got naturally curly hair as it is but my Mom always liked putting my hair in curlers to tame the curls. I knew taking the initiative to do this would make my Mom happy. She had lost her smile and I so wanted to give it back to her. She walked into the living room and stopped to stare. She asked what I was doing and I proudly proclaimed I was learning to roll my hair. I remember her telling me, you’re such a big girl taking care of yourself like that. And she smiled, not a big one but it was there. I was on top of the world. She told me she loved me and went on to bed.
That was the last time I saw her alive. At 2:00 the next morning I awoke to a sound from her bedroom. I found her on the floor. Her heart had stopped beating. The medical report said it was a blood clot to the heart. I know better. It was a broken heart from missing my Dad.
My Mom. She gave me life when there were those who asked her to end it before it began and she stayed until she knew I was a big girl and could take care of myself. I believe once she felt her little girl would be okay, she was able to finally rest and left to follow my Dad.
This will be the most personal post you will ever see me write but I wanted to get my Mom’s story out. I read a blog not long ago written by a son saying how his mother would sit at the foot of his bed whilst he was sick and tell him “everything’s going to be alright.” You have no idea how much I’ve needed to hear those words over the years – how much I have missed having a Mom to talk to. I know she’s looking down on me and I’m grateful for those rare times when I can actually feel her presence. What truly comforts me is knowing she’ll be there waiting for me when I cross that bridge to Heaven. That’s when I will finally be able to rest because I know she’ll put her arm around me and tell me “everything’s going to be alright.”
Thank you, Mama. I love you,