To get up and show up

A short while ago my sister had a conversation with her 4-year-old son about the people closest to him.  The conversation turned to grandparents and my sister asked,

‘What does Grandpa B do?’

He replied, ‘He is a farmer.’

‘And what does Grandma L do?’

‘She works with spinach and chickens.’

‘What does Grandpa F do?’

‘He works at the church.’

‘And what does Grandma A do?’

‘She lies in bed…’

Let me explain.  Today marks a year since my mother had a hip replacement operation.  What was supposed to be a routine maximum week’s stay in hospital, ended up as a nightmare ordeal.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.  Four operations, several infections, hospital bugs treated in isolation, countless blood transfusions and so on and so forth later, she was discharged two months later.

My mother became ill when she was very young, even before she married my dad.  She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and a big part of her intestines were removed.  This resulted in her using very high doses of cortisone and having severe digestion difficulties.  She has been living with this condition for more than 45 years.  Many doctors account the fact that she hasn’t developed cancer as a miracle.  Falling pregnant with me, then my younger sister and brother, was unexpected.

Growing up, I remember my mom being constantly sick.  When I was little, I drew a picture which showed our whole house revolving around the toilet.  That is where she spent a lot of her time.  She was in and out of hospital frequently with severe infections.  But what I remember vividly is how tired she was.  Her condition and the medication that she used completely paralyzed her sometimes.  I remember her sleeping often, day and night, behind a closed door in a dark room.  Completely cut off from us.  So many times I wanted to tell her to get up and show up, but I didn’t have the guts.

Fast forward to a year ago.  After so many years of being ill, her body probably didn’t want to fight infection anymore and shut down.  In the four years before that, both her parents died from long sickbeds while she cared for them.  I didn’t think her heart could break any more than it did since my brother died many years ago, yet it did.  Depression began to settle, also burnout, the realities of a stressful job and sleep deprivation…  Body, soul and spirit collapsed.  She became terribly ill while in hospital and for a while we were unsure if she was going to come out alive.

Since leaving hospital, she has had to rebuild her body, confidence and strength from scratch.  She also has traumatic dreams and cabin fever.  All this while trying to keep up with her job as headmaster of a high school, amongst many other roles.  It has been tough.  Most of the things she did without even thinking twice, she now has to plan in detail to barely make it through.  Sometimes no plans seem to work.  Needless to say, she has been lying down a lot in the last year and for a four-year-old who lives close to her, it probably seems much more.  We became increasingly worried as the weeks passed.

Then, a few months ago, a light flickered on.  She saw her doctor who wanted to increase her medication once again and admit her to a psychiatric hospital.  She decided she was done with being a patient and that if it was up to her, she would never see a doctor again.  She decided to take a firm stance against the medical system she has, knowingly and unknowingly, become a victim of and wean herself off her medication.  She has started to slowly but surely take steps to get better once and for all.  She also overheard her four-year-old grandson’s innocent reply.  Here came a little boy and uttered the exact words we all wanted to say for so many years.  What is indeed the role of a next generation if they can’t be braver and bolder?…  And if we can’t take to heart their insightful words?…

This past holiday, my mom didn’t lie down, except at night to sleep.  She played with her five grandchildren, went to the beach, cleaned the house, cooked and had long conversations with us.  In her blue eyes I could see glimpses of light representing hope and a love for life. She is getting better.  She got up and showed up.

Mom, you are the bravest, strongest woman I know.  You are extraordinary.  Looking back now, I realize how many times you actually got up and showed up without us even knowing.  Countless times you were knocked off your feet again.  Thank you for getting up and showing up once again, for yourself, for us, for ten, twenty years from now, for next generations. I honour, respect and love you with my whole heart.  Also, I thank God that it is not this time last year…

And that is all I need to know now.


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