I wasn’t supposed to be born.
After my mother gave birth to my sister, the doctors told her she’d never have another child. They couldn’t say exactly why (she was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis) but they were pretty damn certain… in that unique way doctors tend to be pretty damn certain.
Wisely, my mother ignored such white coat condescension and less than two years later, yours truly arrived on the scene. She had to spend nearly all of the nine months of pregnancy in bed, but there I was. Mom called me her “miracle baby” and I think this played a role in the amazingly close relationship we always had.
In the U2 song “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” Bono warbles: “That’s all right, we’re the same soul.” This simple line has given me the poetic license to imagine that my mother defied the medical odds by choosing to “share her soul” with me. This selfless act is what made it possible for me to be born and for us to have been such good friends.
When I was about 4 years old, I came down with a mysterious ailment that involved debilitating leg pain, the inability to walk, and an irregular heartbeat. For a while, my pediatrician thought I might have rheumatic fever. My ever-devout mother prayed nightly for God to spare me and give the condition to her half of our soul instead.
Here’s the catch: I soon recovered fully and… my Mom came down with rheumatic fever, severe rheumatoid arthritis, heart problems, and more. These issues hampered her health for the rest of her life.
I’m not gonna debate god, prayer, and all that in this article. However, there’s one thing of which I am 100 percent certain: My mother meant it with all her heart when she said she’d rather suffer for her entire life than see her beloved son sick and that’s all the divine intervention I needed.
Over the years, Mom bravely struggled with an incredibly wide array of illnesses, never succumbing to self-pity or surrender. I once teased her how she was working her way through the medical dictionary, leaving scorched earth in her path. She met her match, however, when diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2005. (In 1998, she and my Dad had moved to Texas to be closer to their granddaughter.)
She had surgery. She tried chemo. She even tried experimental surgery. By fall 2007, she called off the fight and decided to move forward without any further medical interventions. Shortly after Thanksgiving of that year, Mom went into the hospital. No one seemed to fully comprehend the severity of this situation so, even though I had spent one week of every month that yea in Texas, I did not immediately rush down from New York City.
Then my sister called to explain that Mom had ended up in a trance of sorts caused by hypercalcemia and was given her Last Rites. Miraculously (but not really, knowing her), she snapped out of it and experienced a temporary but almost full recovery.
I spoke with her on the phone while she was still in the hospital and she explained to me how she called for me each and every night. She absolutely knew she was close to death and was even ready for it — but she said she couldn’t let go until she saw the other half of her soul one more time.
How lucky am I to have been loved so deeply that another human being was willing to hang on and face immense, unimaginable suffering just to see me one more time? I will carry this knowing with me until the day I die.
Well, she got out of the hospital and I went down to Texas within a matter of days. I spent a rough week there, having never seen my indestructible Mom so incapacitated and needing so much help. Plus, she and Dad were perpetually at odds. This situation was draining her spirit but I was glad to have the chance to wait on her and cater to her needs for once — yet another gift she gave me.
When the day came for me to return home, my Dad went outside to watch for my cab. Mom and I had to say goodbye, fully aware that we might not ever see each other again.
She said: “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
“What do you mean?” I asked
“I wonder what’s going to happen in your life,” she replied. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
I can still see her face and hear her voice as she said this.
“Neither do I,” I said. “But this isn’t goodbye, Mom. I am going to see you again soon. We’re not saying goodbye yet.”
She didn’t answer, so I added: “Besides, the plane could crash and I could go before you”
I don’t know why I even said that but it actually made her laugh.
Somehow, I knew I would see her again and that it wasn’t yet time to tell her — one more time — how I felt and to say one last thank you. I now realize this was major gamble on my part… but fortunately, I was right. I did get that chance to say goodbye.
My Mom went into the hospice on Jan. 4, 2008. She was in the hospital yet again (broken hip, this time) and about to be heavily sedated so I knew I didn’t have much time to truly say goodbye. In November, I felt in my soul (our soul) that I’d see her again. This time, of course, I knew there’d be no reprieve. No second chance.
I asked my Dad and sister to give me five minutes alone with my Mom so they left. It was, without a doubt, the most amazing and profound five minutes of my life. Also the saddest, the most meaningful, and the most important
She was fading already, so I leaned in close and told her she was the best Mom in the world. She said, rather matter-of-factly: “Thank you.”
Me: “Thank you for everything.”
Mom: “You’re welcome.”
Me: “I love you so much.”
Mom: “I love you, too.”
Me: “I’m the luckiest son in the world.”
Then I couldn’t help it. I burst out crying. My Mom looked at me the same exact way she always had whenever I was sad or sick or upset since I was a baby. She said: “Oh sweetie.”
Some primal instinct kicked in and she summoned the strength to raise herself up a bit and reach out with both arms to hug me. I leaned forward to hug her back and buried my face in her neck and shoulder… and kept crying.
Me: “I’m sorry, Mom.”
Mom: “It’s okay.”
Me: “I just love you so much and hate to see you suffering like this.”
Mom: “I’m sorry.”
Even in the midst of her dreadful situation, she was actually apologizing to me for making me cry!
Me: “You never have to apologize to me. You’ve done so much for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better Mom.”
She leaned forward and kissed me.
Me: “I’m gonna be all right, you know that, right?”
She nodded “yes.”
Me: “You’re my best friend.”
Mom: (with a smile) “Thank you.”
Me: “I’ll always love you.”
And I always will. Thank you, Mom…
Postscript: My Mom was famous for her pocketbook which seemed to be bottomless. It was so much a part of her that I kept it after her death. Right after I finished writing this article, I happened upon it in one of my closets. In one of the pockets was the last bottle of her signature perfume (“Beautiful”) that she ever purchased — about two-thirds full. I gasped when I saw it, opened it and inhaled deeply. Instantly: an intense flood of tears. It was as if my brain suddenly released so many long-stored memories when triggered by the scent. It was the closest I’ve felt to hugging her in more than eight and a half years. She knew how badly I needed that hug.
Mickey and his mom share a hug. Photo credit: Mickey Z.
Mickey Z. is currently writing his fourteenth book, How to Lose Friends & Influence Nobody: My Life as an “Activist.” In the meantime, he can be found here.
What my Mom taught me about LOVE by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/what-my-mom-taught-me-about-love-mickey-z.