Sunday, November 3, 2013

Presence in the absence

Sitting up in bed trying to finish F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, borrowed from my 16-year old, warmed by the '70s fake fireplace heater, the lull of the World Series downstairs, my sisters retiring in the rooms next to me and overhead as my parents late-night chatter wound down, I felt serene and safe. Not, exactly, where I expected to be on the eve of my 84-year-old mother's double heart-valve surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. I was grateful to be with my family of origin in a way we have not been in a very long time. Just the Rose girls (and one spouse) quietly settling into a quaint 1920s Colonial in Shaker Heights.

The stuff of movies.

Then early this morning, VERY early, one sister and my parents stole away in the darkness toward an incredibly complex and lengthy day, which none of us expected.

The ups and downs were almost cyclical. The incision has started. The surgeon's representative wants to speak to you. Have you visited the rooftop? Both valves have been replaced, BUT ...

After almost nine hours, we met with the best surgeon at the world's best heart hospital. He pulled no punches, explaining he'd had a lot of tough cases, but this was one of those. In addition to the two new valves, they completed a bypass because hardened calcium deposits caused blockages. Like cement, he said. They scraped it off her heart. I wilted imagining his hands inside of my mother, touching her heart, which touches mine.

Fast forward a week from that Sunday feeling tucked and safe, with my parents down the hallway. I'm quietly snuggled into bed blogging and trying not to wake the eight 15- and 16-year-olds asleep in my living room. My oldest had her 16th birthday party last night and it was a whopper: cloche-hat decorating, vintage-photo shoot, Gatsby-like fancy dinner and then hanging out till all hours. In the midst of that, the girls gobbled up an entire plate of homemade cookies my mother prepared before her surgery. She'd rather have not missed this. My daughter found a picture of my mother's mother in 20s get-up and placed that on the mantel with the decor.

My mother & her mother
One night seems to have inexplicably touched four generations. My grandmother, the one wearing flapper dress, died at 64 of a calcified heart. Her daughter is struggling to not meet the same fate, though she's survived 20 years beyond. The daughter's daughter is sandwiched with sorrow and joy between the milestones of surgery and sweet 16. And the youngest of the four generations lies happily and unconsciously asleep. He grandmother maintains about the same state, though probably not so happily, but, hopefully, just as unconsciously.

Tomorrow, generations three and four will trek back to Cleveland to visit gen 2, hoping to regale her with party stories and grandchildren that can lift her spirits and speed her healing. And one, tender-hearted daughter will be grateful to physically touch her mother once again, though she and so many others have continually been asking God to grace her with healing.

This Side of Paradise still sits by my bed, seven pages left. 

• When has God allowed me a glimpse of the treasure in my life?
• How has that helped me through thick and thin?
• What role does family play in my life?
• What relationship patterns can we keep and strengthen?
• Which ones is it time to discard or transform?

my house
is full

of life,
zest, youth
and confidence

yet my heart
yearns for
the one
sedated and
isolated four
hours away

the one, who,
before a mind-
boggling surgery
baked four-dozen

for her 
16th birthday

and sent
a pile of 

making her
presence felt
in her absence

in which the
heart grows

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