Posted by: Kate | May 1, 2010

Mother’s Month

Family is so complicated.

You’ve got Willem’s family, which is actually quite simple for us, right now, because we haven’t heard a thing from them.  Silence is, indeed, golden, when it’s coming from people who have caused such intense hurt and misunderstanding and unhappiness in the past.  Willem’s mother has been in inconsistent contact since I got sick, with reactions ranging from totally inappropriate (weeping and making sure Willem knew just how much danger I was in, just how close to death, when I was in the coma – which would be awful enough regardless of the source, but she’s a nurse, theoretically trained to discuss illness in a less catastrophic manner) to flatly incompetent (calling to ask for an update, on April 17… and forgetting to mention, in passing, that it also happened to be her only granddaughter’s birthday).

It was sad, really, because everyone else seemed to be able to figure out how to behave in ways that were more supportive or helpful or just not-frustrating, but she wasn’t able to find it in herself to do so.  She wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to react, except that my mother thought that informing her was the Right Thing to Do.  I’m sure she’s right, but it ended up just being a setup for disappointment.  It also carried, with each interaction, an odd sense that she was trying to pull the attention back to herself.  She sobbed, when first given the news, as though she expected comfort from the man who was on the verge of becoming a 34-year-old widower with three young children, for instance.  Later, she explained that the reason she couldn’t come out to help (not that we would have requested, or accepted, such a thing) was that she also was having abdominal surgery, and she really didn’t want to  reschedule… thus projecting the impression that her single non-emergent procedure was comparable to my twelve emergent ones, or even that the two ought to be compared in the first place.  Life isn’t a competition in which the person that experiences the greatest suffering wins, in my view, but she has always acted that way: other people’s misery is overplayed and hers is sadly underappreciated.


And that’s it.  The sum total of contact from Willem’s entire family.  At all.  The only reason this doesn’t make me incoherently sad is because my family, and friends, have unhesitatingly opened their hearts, minds, arms, wallets, calendars, all forms of support to him.  They had all unquestioningly accepted him as my choice, and thus he just as important and worthy as me.  (In fact, I think many of them like him better.)  But still, sad.

On my side, the bigger picture is less complicated; we have been flooded with well-wishes, offers of help, cards, gifts, love… regardless of geography or DNA, people have found ways to let us know that they’re thinking and praying and ready to help, however they can.

And then, in a class all by herself, there’s my mom.

When I was still in the ICU, it became apparent that, assuming I was going to recover at all, we were facing a very long road.  Early timelines suggested six months before I could return home, much less function independently.  Willem must have panicked.  Here he was, the new guy at work, employed only since August, and he was already taking an unexpected stretch of time off to run back and forth between my hospital room, Isaac’s hospital room, and home to occasionally make eye contact with his bigger kids.  Even when Isaac was home, he required 24/7 care and was too small to be enrolled at any sort of daycare facility, and we’re too new to the area to have the faintest idea how to find a trustworthy caregiver in time.  Willem had to tell his still-kind-of-new boss to start making contingency plans, because unless some magical solution fell from the sky, he was going to have to quit his job to care for his baby.

Enter Pama.

Thus named by Emily years ago because “Grandma Pam” was too unwieldy, she had rushed out the day I was airlifted to Boston, and she stayed as many days as her job – co-owner of a social work business that does elder care management – would allow.  The day she returned home was a particularly awful one, weather-wise, and she drove home through a torrential downpour, with tears pouring down her face and the sense that this deluge was the universe’s way of telling her that she was driving in the wrong direction.  Almost the moment she arrived home, she began making plans: canceling television and telephone services, finishing work obligations and declining new opportunities, generally doing what one has to do to place an entire life on hold.  She called and told Willem to expect her back here within a week, to stay as long as necessary, so that our family and his job and just our lives could keep moving, if not normally than at least functionally.

I don’t think he believed her at first, but a day or so later she called again, and assured him that, yes, she really did mean it.  I think he might have wept with gratitude, if he could have allowed himself to stop running on adrenaline and to-do lists.

And out she came, with her all-encompassing competence and willingness to do dishes and child-rearing and cooking and just everything, every day.  When news came that I would be home sooner than expected, there was a universal sigh of relief, not only because I was getting better, but because my mother would be here to help with my health care, and to prevent me from even thinking about overdoing.  Since returning home, I’ve barely done a thing in terms of housework, and those things (such as, putting a glass in the dishwasher or wiping out the bathroom sink) have gotten me in trouble for not being seated with my feet up.

It has just been overwhelming to think about, really.  How on earth do you begin to express your gratitude to someone for saving, if not your life, then at least your lifestyle?

And she won’t admit, really, that what she has done is all that big a deal.  It’s just what a mother does, she implies, as she shrugs it off to go swap loads of laundry once again.  I do have to agree: down the road, if one of my children or parents was – God forbid – in a comparable situation, I would find a way to be there, physically be there, and help. Still, I and gratefully, overwhelmingly grateful… even when she makes me crazy (and I’m certain I more than return that favor), I am swamped with love and appreciation.

My sister asked, when my mom was still making her preparations to return for the foreseeable future, if she was sure she could afford to do this.  My mother summed  it all up in her response: “Your child doesn’t stop being your child just because she’s all  grown up.  I can’t afford not to do this.”



  1. 🙂

  2. My mommy is in Heaven, but if she was still here, she would have done the exact same thing. Send your mommy my love, and tell her I said she is wonderful! After my mother passed away at the age of 45 I wanted nothing other than to be a mommy just like her. To love my family fully, to be the best mom I could be. Kate you have certainly lived up to that, and I hope one day I can say the same thing. All my love to you all!

  3. Well said Pama! “Your child doesn’t stop being your child just because she’s all grown up. I can’t afford not to do this.” I totally agree! I say she gets the mother of the year award for Mothers Day 2010….whata ya say? I’m so glad that you have that very needed support and care.

  4. Yes, that is what mom’s do. God– I am so happy she was able to be there for you. I was going to go into a entire talk about my mom (gone in 1986) and my dad (gone in 1999), but honestly– that is what mom’s do and thank God every day you have her there.

    My best friend’s husband, btw, invented ( or maybe the better word is designed), the VAC Freedom. I am so happy that it seemed to speed up your recovery and I have been forwarding your updates to him.

  5. Parents continue to be role models, even when their children are grown. The things they have done just remind me of what I will do someday for my own child.

    My mom flew halfway across the country when my daughter was born three weeks early. She was with me 12 hours after I called her to say that things were happening. She wasn’t able to be there for the birth, but she stayed for a week. It was something that I will never forget.

  6. PAMA is the B-O-M-B, thanks for taking care of your & our Kate!
    My mom also does the same things and says the same stuff and she is the B-O-M-B too.

  7. What a wonderful tribute to her. It’s one thing to help those you love…it’s another thing to have someone write such a loving tribute to her. I bet she prints it out and hangs it on her wall! I would.

    I know what you mean by being disappointed by family members. MIL’s reaction wasn’t surprising, all considered, but you still have HOPE, don’t you, that things would change this time, and she’d actually step out of her ME ME ME world and consider that her beloved son nearly lost his beloved wife. But nope, that didn’t happen yet again. And it stings yet again, no matter how much you tell yourself, THEY WON’T CHANGE.

    Oh yes, I know all about it. The last time I rang my dad to ask how he liked the pics I got, my mum said, “Tell her I said hi” on her way to go have her 10th fag of the day. I’ve talked to her twice since Bea’s rather traumatic birth, each time it’s, “Baby okay? Is she a GOOD BABY?” (No mom, she drinks and smokes and rides round with bikers in Munich).

    People like that don’t change. Your MIL may not be mentally ill like mine, but she’s got the same narrowed, selfish view. And she is missing EVERYTHING because of it. But…”that’s her burden to tote round”…

  8. this is a lovely tribute to your mom. I’m grateful that you have her.

  9. Love! Your mom deserves a huge round of applause.

  10. Kate-When I read your line

    “How on earth do you begin to express your gratitude to someone for saving, if not your life, then at least your lifestyle?”

    I thought-you live! I’m pretty sure that you just getting healthy & returning to your regularly scheduled life will be all that she needs to see from you. So happy to know that you have such an amazing mom.

  11. Pama ROCKS! You are blessed to have each other. That’s how I feel about my Mom & know it’s something very special.

  12. God Bless Pama. Thanks so much for helping take care of Kate.

  13. Your mom is so awesomely awesome covered in awesome-sauce. I got a wee bit teary eyed reading this post. You deserve the absolute best and I’m so grateful that your mom is there.

  14. Moms are plain old amazing. And yours is at the top o’ the heap!

  15. Yay for your mum! She sounds like an amazing woman.

  16. Your mom is a rock star!

  17. Your mom is wonderful!

  18. That’s because she’s a mom, not just a moer (biological). Some women just don’t have it (willem’s mother) I guess. I recently rushed home for 2 weeks to help after my dad was hospitalized for emergency surgery. my mom and dad were all “you didn’t have to come, you did so much more than we expected…” I said “Yes I did, and I did what a daughter does.”

  19. Every time you write my heart smiles a little bit bigger in the knowledge that you are still here, still writing, still (maybe) driving your mom a bit crazy (as all daughters should, right?).

    Happy early Mother’s Day to both of you…and many, many, many more!

  20. To say your mom came through would be the understatement of the century. Blass her for her strength and love and willingness to do what it takes to get everybody taken care of.

  21. […] Etheridge fan, and I can hear her smile from here.  It’s nowhere near a repayment for all she did for us in March and April, but it’s a tiny step in the right […]

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