THE POWER OF MY MOTHER'S LOVE

THE POWER OF MY MOTHER'S LOVE

From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Power of My Mother’s Love

Motherhood is being available to your children whenever they need you, no matter what their age or their need.

Major Doris Pengilly

I discovered the power of my mother’s love the spring I was twenty-six years old. I was hard at work in graduate school, busily moving toward my doctoral degree in psychology. It was early spring, the grass still brown and crunchy beneath my feet, as I walked from my car to the hospital entrance. I had been sick for a month with infections so resilient that not even the most powerful antibiotics were able to eradicate them. I felt incredibly weak, but had so much to do, I was eager to be done with this appointment.

As I walked wearily through the sliding glass doors into the admissions area, I anticipated a diagnosis of anemia or some other vitamin deficiency, a lecture about improper eating habits, finishing with a new regimen of vitamin horse-pills and a strict diet. I could hear my mother’s voice, “I told you—you should be eating more protein. You’re just not taking care of yourself. You’re studying too hard.” Why is this happening now? I thought resentfully. It is so inconvenient.

After what seemed like hours of waiting, a doctor appeared from behind the sherbet-striped curtains and entered the cubicle where I lay stretched out on the gurney. Startled to find me alone, he inquired where my family was. I told him that my husband had to work that morning and that my mother and father were living in a different state. The concern on his face deepened.

“I have reason to believe that you have leukemia,” he said. The statement hung in the air and then fell like a ton of bricks, shattering my world as I knew it and rocking me at my very foundation. My first question after that initial moment of shock was, “Am I going to die?”

The doctor explained his diagnosis needed to be confirmed immediately with additional testing. After that chemotherapy treatments would start immediately. Bottom line, I would be admitted immediately to the hospital and would not be released for at least a month. My condition was life-threatening. He told me that if I had waited a day or two longer my condition could have been fatal. My body was shutting down because of the rampant takeover of the quickly proliferating white blood cells. I could still die—suddenly—at any time.

After a painful test that confirmed the diagnosis of acute leukemia, my family began to arrive. I remember vividly the expression of shock and anguish on my mother’s face. She looked as if the world had dealt her a deathly blow, as if her world had been shattered as well. It was this sense of shared trauma that would see us through the ordeal of the following five months.

Time passed in a blur of treatments. There were three extended hospital stays, rounds of chemotherapy, endless waiting for blood counts to return to normal from the devastating effects of chemo and even longer days and nights spent fending off the fever of infection. During this time, my mom was my rock, ever present and ever supportive. Every day, twelve to sixteen hours a day, she was there with me at the hospital.

One of the most trying parts of the hospital routine was the mask she was required to wear anytime she was in my room to protect me from the potential deadly germs of the outside world. Yet she wore her mask every day without hesitation or complaint, enduring with me the boring and cramped confines of the Isolation ward.

Later, I came to see that time of shared isolation as a time of immeasurable bonding, not unlike my time in her womb. I was dependent on her for life support, trusting that she would nourish and protect me. I came to appreciate the enormity of the responsibility she had taken for me years ago at my conception. And now, without a moment’s hesitation, she had taken that responsibility again. The beauty and power of our bond and her commitment to care for me were profound healing forces in my recovery.

During those months, my mother and I had many rituals that came to sustain us. Each morning, I would awaken early and sit by the window waiting for my mother’s familiar red car to tool down the street and into the visitor’s parking lot. When I spotted her car, I immediately felt that I could make it through another day—as if she were my guardian angel, guiding and protecting me through the most difficult battle of my life. As she walked from the parking lot to the hospital I would wave at her. Each morning she looked up and cheerfully waved back. She was happy to see me as well.

During that time, I began to understand that a mother does what she needs to do to nurture and protect her child, even if that means enduring horrible conditions herself. Those long days at the hospital, I later learned, were very stressful for my mom. There were days when she broke out in itchy, painful hives and went downstairs to the emergency room for treatment. She hid it so well, I never knew she was in discomfort. Most of the time, she sat by my bed and we talked, played cards and watched “Oprah” together. Other times, she read quietly and watched me sleep.

My mother had no other purpose in those days except to tell me she loved me with her presence. I especially felt her love the times she reached out and rested her hand on top of mine. Such a small gesture, but one that immediately brought me calm and peace—a sense that the world was all right and that I was okay.

I also cherished our evening ritual. Many nights I experienced panic and anxiety when I knew it was time for Mom to leave. My mother would kiss me goodnight and assure me I would see her tomorrow. Again, I would perch in the windowsill and wait until I saw her walking into the night, toward her car. She would turn as she neared the end of the sidewalk and look up into the darkened windows of the hospital and find me, waving to her. She would give one last wave before getting into the car. Then I’d watch the taillights of her car fade into the dark, knowing that in the morning, we would start our rituals all over again. This is how we survived those challenging months—together.

Eventually, I recovered from my leukemia and have been in remission for seven years now. Battling for my life was painful in every way, yet sharing that ordeal with my mother produced some of the most precious moments in our relationship. I experienced firsthand the overwhelming power of a mother’s love to bring peace and healing in even the most difficult of life’s circumstances.

Shana Helmholdt

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