I woke up this morning missing Mama. I’m sure “Mama” sounds super southern (I am from Atlanta, after all) but I don’t have that strong of an accent. Anyway, I woke up thinking about how much I continue to miss her. She HATED doctors, and going to the doctor, so when she started having stomach aches all the time, she did a teeny bit of research and decided (all on her own) that she had diverticulitis – I had never heard of that but she assured my sister, my brother and me that it wasn’t a big deal. She convinced all of us that she had it figured out and she changed her diet – which really just meant she didn’t eat popcorn anymore. Our baby, John, was a couple of months old at the time (aka I am in the weeds) so I didn’t think much about it. So, the stomach aches got worse and we forced her to go to the doctor. Tests were done, x-rays were taken. Mama had colon cancer. Strangely, we still weren’t that worried or maybe I was just hiding my head in the sand. Mama needed surgery and surely they could get it all. Here I have this little baby and my mother is sick and my husband is at work – what I really wanted to do was check out of my real life and go sit by my mother every minute of the day. Obviously that wasn’t an option.
This may sound weird but Mama was my best friend. I adored her. She was fun and friendly. She was wise and had great advice. I thought she was beautiful and really cool. She was totally unconventional too. In her later years, she decided that these flowy Indian dresses and cowboy boots (remember – living in Atlanta, not Dallas) were just “her” and she dressed like that pretty much every day. I have some of those dresses in my closet – I just can’t bear to give them away. We were known to go to two or three movies in a row where she would talk too loudly – which was a little annoying I have to admit. Anyway, my mother was the definition of “awesome” to me. Plus, I was in a stage of life where I really needed her counsel and just to be there for me.
After the surgery, the doctor called and told her, over the phone (!), that she had six months to live. We were all devastated. It was a crushing blow. Mama’s closest friend sent her to Europe for interferon treatments – they made her sicker. My brother went with her and cared for her during that trip. I will always be grateful to him for that. Mama refused to have chemo. She didn’t want to spend her remaining days throwing up and she didn’t want to lose her hair. (Did I mention she was totally vain? That hair of hers was staying on top of her head!) She went to Emory Hospital for an experimental treatment, an infusaid pump, which was something they insert in your belly surgically and then every two weeks, they insert a huge syringe for chemotherapy. She only agreed to it because there are no side effects. This gave her a miraculous extra two years of life.
Towards the end, I started to feel sick myself. By this time, John was 2 and our second child, Philip, was about 9 months old. Strangely, I felt pregnant. Wait a minute. I had an IUD to keep that from happening. I called my doctor, they said come in at lunchtime and we’ll give you a quick test. This was before you could go spend $16 at Walgreens. I had John and Philip in their Maclaren double stroller (loved that thing) and as I rolled them past my doctor’s office, I called out, “If I’m pregnant, it is your fault!” I was kidding of course. Jay and I wanted a big family – we had planned to have more kids – just maybe not quite this soon. When the office called with the news, I said, “That can’t be right. We need to do a second test.” The nurse said, “Sure, no problem, but there is no need. You are definitely pregnant.” Jay and I were in shock – but all of that is a different story.
I was really sick during that pregnancy. It was the one and only time in my life I lost weight without trying. Of course, I gained later on but it was tough. Mama was sick in bed with round the clock nurses by now. I would go for a visit, the boys would be running around, and I would actually climb into bed with Mama. Here is the crazy thing – she would comfort me. She would tell me what a wonderful life she had led and how blessed she was and how God was there waiting to greet her. Those months were probably the hardest of my life. There came a time when the boys running around were not pleasant for her. Oh no, how was I going to visit? A therapist gave me some great advice. I complained that I just wanted to be with my mother but I had John and Philip to care for. She said it is not the amount of time that matters but rather the frequency of my visits. She said just pop in at least once a day for five minutes. Best advice I’ve ever gotten. I saw my mother every day those last few months. After a visit one day, I went to hang out with my brother and sister – they worked in the same office. I had left Mama’s about 10 minutes before. The nurse called the office and said Mama had slipped away peacefully. God orchestrated that – for us not to be there but to be together.
Three months later, I had baby #3. I was sure it would be a girl who we would name Emily, after my mother. It would be the perfect circle of life. But, as often happens, God had a different plan for the Crouse house. We had our third precious little boy, who we named Edward. He has been a joy and I can’t imagine our lives without him.
I miss my mother every single day. My sister and I have started talking about her which is bitter sweet. My brother can’t really “go there.” But here is the reason I started thinking about all of this today. I learned in a Bible Study one time this story about sheep. I guess this was in Biblical times. When a lamb keeps wandering off from the herd, sometimes a shepherd will actually break one of its legs. He will then carry the lamb around his neck until the little leg heals. By that time, the lamb is comforted while it is healing and comes to know the shepherd’s voice so clearly that they never wander again. I think God does that with us. Maybe not on purpose but sometimes our life becomes broken in one way or another so we need God so desperately that we stay close to Him and listen for and to His voice until we clearly know it. And hopefully we won’t stray again.
I guess the bottom line is that really tough things happen and God is always there to lift us up, wrap us around His shoulders and comfort us until we have healed.