Heart Lessons

Julia’s Heart Day Gift to Mommy

On Valentine’s Day the world is all about love: The love we have, the love we’ve had, and love we hope to have. Me? When not coupled-up, traditionally, I thought about the dinners I’ve made, and the men that I prepared those dinners for, and the gifts I received after we had  consumed those dinners. Today, only the jewelry remains. Yet, this Valentine’s Day I contributed no time to my old pursuit of self-flagellation. This Valentine’s Day, I thought about the heart in deeper, more profound ways, in a more personal way than ever before. Knowing that a loved one will have heart surgery will do that to you.

I hadn’t really thought about the state of mother’s heart in the little more a decade since her heart attack, more or less, out of fear. If I didn’t think of my mom’s mortality, to my mind  she became immortal. Then I became a mother. And overnight, it seemed, my mom became smarter, wiser, even more of the rock she had been all along, just covering a broader foundation. The power of seeing your mom in grandmother mode will do that to you.

So, a few months back, just before Thanksgiving when my mother said, “ my cardiologist decided to have a look at the interior walls and arteries of my heart,” it raised a minor blip on my mental screen while listening over the phone. Then Julia and I headed to Michigan for the Christmas holidays.

“The doctor wants to do a bypass,” my mother said as we watched Julia and her cousins’ play in her Redford, Michigan living room.
“And I don’t want you to come back home for it, I’ll be fine.”

While my mom did have a rather consistent habit of falling asleep in the midst of TV shows I believed my brother Jeffrey when he said, “It’s just the medication that she’s on that makes her sleepy.” Guess I’m not the only one in the family capable of spinning a believable tale.

My mom’s bypass surgery was performed on February 7th. Six hours of it. Although the lost  blood flow was restored, all fifty percent, reaching the targeted goal,  my mother’s heart rate had yet to returned to normal, six days post surgery.

A typical pacemaker
A typical pacemaker

“Mom’s having a pace maker tomorrow installed tomorrow,” Johnny’s text stated. I stared at the my cell screen recalling there was once a time when folks picked up the phone for this kind of news. I suppose the power of seeing your mom in ICU will do that to you.

“Julia, we’ll have to make a get-well-soon card for Grandma,” I informed my daughter Thursday night, as Clifford the Big Red Dog was busy doing his 7:30 set.

“Okay, mommy,” she said, scribbling a red crayon against a robin’s egg blue sheet of construction paper. Julia is an all in girl. The next day, Friday, as I crafted copy at my ad agency, a text did not come. Later I shopped for Palak Paneer at Trader Joe’s and my cell did not ring. I cooked an Indian style heart day dinner for Julia, and Aunt Carla and me, and an e-mail did not come. Before I slid between the covers, I texted my brother, “ Any news, Johnny?” Press send.

The following morning, as the sun glinted on the fresh snow in Central Park, I grabbed my cell before I grabbed a cappuccino.
“They did the surgery, she’s doing great.” Now I could say the same.

But in truth, I’m not quite the same. The clock is ticking, that I now understand. And if I managed to repress that fact before, the last few weeks have provided me with a fresh, new understanding. For two decades I have grumbled to anyone who’d listen about my mom’s peculiar habit of calling at the break of a raw new day to “tell me something before she forgot,” or “before my day started,” including Saturdays; I’d bemoaned the packages she sends; the dull, craftpaper wrapped boxes that prompt Julia to croon “ Open it! Open it!” before I have removed my coat and gloves; I’ve whined about spending yet another evening trying to find a place to stuff all the grandma loot that comes in out of those boxes, some two sizes too big for Julia; I’ve detailed my mother’s relentless pursuit to get me as addicted to Tyler Perry movies as she is, “Just called to tell you ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ is on, it’s a great story!” Why my mom never stops to think that a woman who has yet to be married would lean into such a movie remains a mystery.

For two weeks, I have received no calls, no packages, no movie schedule updates. The silence has pierced my days, and especially my mornings. Still, not as deeply as knowing one day, some years into the future given the testimonies on the longevity of pacemakers, the time will come, sadly, crushingly, life alteringly, when the silence arrives for good. I suppose the power of facing your mom’s mortality, your own, will do that to you.

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