Authors Note: This is an essay I wrote for one of my classes. I’m posting it here because it discusses my emotions during and after my mother’s illness – something generations from now will not find in the medical records or death certificates.
But it also touches on the fact that certain acts of kindness, love, and compassion can never truly be repaid. When I was originally given this assignment, I wanted to write about YOU – the genealogy community that sent more love, support, and words of encouragement than I could ever have imagined. I survived on the blog comments, emails, and Facebook messages of support, advice, prayers, encouragement. On the days that I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore (and trust me, there were a lot of those), I could feel all of you holding my hand, reminding me to take a deep breath, count to ten, and somehow give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other. Every time I think about it, I am deeply humbled and reminded just how much I love this community. But since I could easily write a novel about all of that and the assignment was to only write a 600-700 word essay, I picked this topic instead.
Enough of me rambling….Here it is:
It is often in our times of great need, when we are shown great love and kindness, that we realize that there is no gift sufficient enough for repayment. In Billy Collins’ poem “The Lanyard,” the speaker comes upon the realization that he will never be able to repay his mother for all she has done for him. Similarly, I feel that the baskets of candy will never repay the nurses, social workers, and firefighters that supported me through my mother’s illness and death.
My mother began suffering from liver failure in September 2009 after many years of alcoholism. Since my mother did not have health insurance, she was forced to be treated at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where many of the nurses are overworked and tired. As I was trying to learn how to manage my mother’s illness and the treatment options available, it was often the nurses who took the time to calmly explain new terms and keep me updated on new options. When the stress became too much, it was the nurses who gave me a supportive smile and encouraging arm squeeze to keep me going. Although the nurses were overworked and underpaid, they always took a few seconds to make sure I was coping. Once it was time for my mother to be discharged, she told me to bring the nurses a basket of candy as a token of appreciation for their care.
In January of 2010, I had to call paramedics to my apartment to rush my mother to the hospital. As the paramedics were taking my mother to the ambulance, one firefighter stopped and placed his hand on my back. He gave me a reassuring smile and asked me if I was alright. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t speak and could only give a nod in response. He gave me another reassuring smile, reminded me that the paramedics would do everything possible for my mom, and then walked away. I dropped off a basket of candy and sweets to the fire station the next day.
My mom spent much of January in the Intensive Care Unit with some of the brightest minds in the hospital keeping her stable. The doctors spent a lot of time educating me about her various medical conditions and guiding me in how to care for her. When visitor hours would close, the doctors would call to check on me, give me updates on my mother’s care, and answer any new questions I may have had. As the hospital decided to transfer my mother to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center because she lacked insurance, it was a young doctor who held my hand and eased my nerves. I spent the night creating another candy basket that was promptly delivered to the doctor in the morning.
On February 28, 2010, I called the paramedics for the last time to my apartment. It was the second emergency in a month and the paramedics had a bleak demeanor. As I was in a state of panic and dread, the firefighters no longer attempted to relieve my fear but instead tried to help me endure the pain that was coming. One firefighter in particular tried to soothe my panic by reminding me that he was going to hold my mother’s hand the whole ambulance ride. Once at the hospital, he brought me a glass of water, said I looked so much like his own daughter, and wished me well. I made a note in my planner to bring him a basket of candy.
Later that evening, a social worker came to speak with me about my mother’s worsening condition. She asked me about my mother’s final wishes and clearly explained each of the options I had in front of me. As I sat in the emergency room waiting room, her presence gave me strength. When her shift was over, she gave me a glass of water and told me she would check on me in the morning. When my mother did not survive the night, I made a note to bring the social worker a basket of candy the next day.
During my mother’s illness, I was fortunate enough to receive the kindness and encouragement of the nurses, firefighters, and social workers that cared for my mother. Just as the speaker of “The Lanyard” felt that he would never be able to repay his mother for her love and parenting, I feel that my small and insignificant gift of a candy basket will never repay the staff for everything they’ve done for me.