54: Friday the 13th

54: Friday the 13th

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Friday the 13th

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

~Albert Einstein

When Ann phoned on Friday morning, January 13, 2017, to confirm our breakfast date later that morning, I was thrilled. Get-togethers with my dear friend were rare enough. But outings that included our husbands as well only took place every few years. The fact that Ann and my husband Chuck had recently celebrated birthdays made this post-holiday outing even more special.

“Will Marjorie be joining us as well?” Ann asked. “I hope so!”

Just like that, my excitement plummeted, delight now tinged with guilt.

“I don’t think so,” I hedged. “Mom needs two hours to get up, get dressed, and be ready to roll, and she often doesn’t fall asleep until three or four in the morning. I’d hate to call now and wake her up.”

True enough, every word. But on another level, how could I tell someone who adored my upper-octogenarian mother that I’d really like a break from her? For months now, ever since preparing for and hosting her forty-first annual art show, my mother hadn’t been herself. But Ann had asked me a week ago to invite Mom, so I felt bad for not conveying the message sooner. It was partly because I had forgotten, but I’m pretty sure I also delayed because, deep down, I really didn’t want to include my mother. I just wanted to kick back and relax with friends for an hour without feeling any responsibility or worry.

Conflicted, I hung up. “It’s too early to call Mom,” I groused to my husband. “She needs her sleep. And I need a break!”

Still, with most of my mother’s friends deceased or battling serious health issues, I knew the inherent value of an invitation. Whether she went or not, she’d appreciate being asked. And wasn’t I always wishing more people would include Mom in their plans?

Being a good daughter — or parent, grandparent, partner, friend — is not always convenient, and we all need a therapeutic break now and then. But in this case, love and compassion won out. I knew I wouldn’t fully enjoy my breakfast unless I made that call.

Mom answered the phone sounding groggy and marble-mouthed. I had woken her up. I berated myself for not extending the invitation earlier.

“I’m sorry I woke you, Mom,” I sighed.

“That’s okay. I have to get up anyway,” she said, still oddly garbled. “I have a hair appointment this morning.”

“Oh, what time is that?” I asked, wondering if the scheduling might work out.

She mumbled something I didn’t catch.

“Sorry, Mom, what did you say?”

“It’s at 16 17.”

“What time is your hair appointment?” I asked again.

“I told you,” she snapped. “16 17!”

My blood ran cold. “Okay, Mom,” I soothed. “I’ll let you go and get ready.”

As I hung up, a word that a friend had mentioned to me twenty years earlier suddenly came to me: aphasia. The strange jumbling of speech. A possible symptom of stroke.

My heart hammered.

I immediately drove to my mother’s house where I found her padding around the kitchen in her bathrobe trying to lay out her morning pills. Not wanting to alarm her, I casually asked a few simple questions. Once again, she seemed to have difficulty responding.

“I don’t understand you, Wendy,” she said irritably. “I don’t have my pants on yet.”

When she repeated her peculiar pants statement a minute later, this time pointing to her head, I suddenly grasped what she was trying to tell me. Her hearing aids were not in yet!

Turning, I hurried to my mother’s bedroom, shut the door, and dialed her doctor. Then I called Chuck and asked him to call 911 for an ambulance. Sick with fear, I ran back to my mother, who by this time had given up on her pills.

“I don’t feel right,” she whispered, trembling. “I felt funny early this morning, too, so I went back to bed.”

Afraid that Mom’s already-high blood pressure might spike dangerously, I guided her back to her bedroom and calmly explained that we needed to go to the hospital and get her checked out. Chuck and I never made it to our breakfast that morning, but my mother did make it safely to the hospital, where tragedy was averted.

Later that day, sitting quietly beside her bed, I relived those terrifying first moments. Certain the morning’s events were anything but random or coincidental, I was overcome with gratitude and humbled by God’s great mercy. Had my friend, twenty years earlier, not described her own mom’s experience with aphasia in such detail, I might not have recognized my mother’s danger signs as quickly. Had I invited Mom to breakfast earlier in the week, only to have her decline, I would never have placed that last-minute call. And had Ann not unknowingly tugged at my conscience by calling to reiterate her hope that Marjorie would join us, I would have blithely gone about my morning and never visited Mom until later that day — or the next day, even! By then, who knows what kind of damage her brain might have sustained?

I believe God was watching over all of us that day. His divine timing ensured that I heard and interpreted Mom’s bizarre “16 17” reply as an urgent cry for help. Eight months later, my mother still struggles at times to express herself accurately. But considering what could have happened that fateful Friday the 13th, she is without question one very lucky lady. And I am, without question, one very lucky daughter to still have my mom in my life.

~Wendy Hobday Haugh

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