by: Elizabeth Noles
The weather was unusually warm for fall. Nonetheless, I was enjoying the sunshine. I had emerged from a long winter, which was followed by an even longer summer. I was looking forward to fall with its decidedly cooler weather and lazy nights. My family had buried my dad in February. Like the bold yellow, orange, and red leaves bursting from the trees, I found life seeping into the corner pockets of my heart that had been cold and dreary for many months. I was looking forward to the weeks my mom was coming to spend with me, and for many days had been planning all the trouble that we would get into. We were famous for our midnight trips to Wal-Mart, and even more infamous for our outlandish projects that we never quite completed. However,for all the incomplete projects around my house, there had always been many moments of laughter and many hours spent planning what our next project would be. Momma left on a Friday to travel on vacation with her sister. When she returned the next week, our plotting and planning would begin.
Ona Saturday night, sitting in a crowded Chick-Fil-A, I got the phone call. “Honey, I’m at the hospital and they are doing surgery Monday morning on my heart. It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about coming, but I thought you would want to know.” In that moment, my whole world tilted off balance. It was like a scene from a movie,where the music crescendos into a dead silence. The restaurant noises drifted into the background, every nerve, every ounce of focus was on the voice coming out of my cell phone. “Mom, of course I’m going to come. I’ll leave in the morning and be there as soon as possible”. I don’t know in what world she thought I would stay home. Sometimes parents still think they know everything.
I arrived at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, mid-morning on Sunday. I walked into intensive care and tried to block the sterile, pungent hospital odor from my nostrils. Machines were beeping, nurses were hopping, and families were sitting in hushed circles with drawn faces and concern oozing from every breath. I didn’t know quite what I would walk into when I saw my mom.I walked up to the nurse’s station and quietly asked for her room. “Kathleen Spruill, please?”
A stoic nurse dressed in the classic white uniform replied “Are you family?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered in shaky voice.
“Right this way”, as she directed me down the hall, dismissing from her presence.
I opened the door quietly and hesitantly; fear was evident in my quiet moves. I was quickly greeted by a boisterous hello from my mother sitting up in the bed eating jell-o. I didn’t know the ICU even served patients food; only my mom could finagle what she wanted against hospital rules.
The day went by slowly as only days spent in a hospital do. After much hustle and bustle from doctors and nurses, I found myself alone with my mom in the late afternoon hour. In the quiet of the room, I sat next to her and gently placed her hand in mine. I held it softly, tracing every line and every vein. I thought about my babies, and how she had held them and patted them to sleep. I remembered how she changed their diapers and wiped their faces with a gentle caress, known only to those who have watched their children have children of their own. As I looked at a particularly large wrinkle, I thought how these hands did the same for me. They have cleaned my house, and washed countless loads of laundry, simply because it was a task to be completed. Those same hands have felt my brow, even as an adult, when she felt that I was ill and not taking care of myself. Her manicured fingers have pointed at me and held me accountable when I have squandered my opportunities or made bad decisions. I didn’t quite know how to put into words all that I was thinking, so I simply said, “I love you. I hope you truly know how much I love you and appreciate you.” I remember she smiled so peacefully at me and said she knew. What is it about hospitals that make you want to share your feelings in such open ways? Maybe if we all spent a few hours in a hospital, we could learn to express the deepest parts of our hearts. The parts of our heart that we keep locked away in the busyness of life. The parts,that when faced with uncertainty, begs to be released to those who know us best. As my mom and I sat and talked in the stillness of the afternoon, we shared tidbits that were of no consequence,mixed in with heartfelt apologies for words that had been said, or actions that couldn’t be reversed. Neither of us speaking out the fear of what tomorrow would bring with the looming surgery,but constantly assuring each other that all would be fine and life would go on as it always had. At one point she looked at me with a sternness in her eye. The kind of sternness you learn from years of parenting, the kind that comes wrapped in love, but they still know you mean business. With that look in her eye she said to me, “Live your life surrendered to God. It is the only way you will ever be happy. Live your life surrendered to His Will. Nothing else works.” I looked at her and in that moment, I knew.
Monday morning came early and dreaded. I kissed her face, and as they wheeled her to surgery, she spoke boldly and clearly “No matter what happens, I win.” On Monday, October 24, 2011, my mother won. She won the prize that is given to those who live lives surrendered to God. I know that my dad met her there, and together they walked into the place where hearts are fixed and grief is no more. A place where I believe she watches over my children and caresses them with the warmth of a gentle breeze. A place where she can still point her finger when I squander my opportunities. Some days, especially in the warmth of the fall, when the sun rises high in the sky like an orange balloon about to take flight, I look up and wonder what she sees. I wonder what kind of trouble she has found,and I wonder if they have a Wal-Mart in heaven.