The year was 1977. I was scarcely 14, a nestling (probably more of a fledgling actually). Coming home from school one day, I heard my father on the phone upstairs. I ran up to see what was going on. He was telling my grandmother how sick my mother was, and he broke down. He was wailing. I had never, ever seen or even heard him cry before that day. I knew my life was about to change. The borders of sanctuary became very vague. I was tongue-tied and vulnerable. Fear this deep was completely foreign to me …
My grandmother came on the day of surgery to bring us kids to the hospital to see our mother before her procedure. I don’t remember speaking to my brothers or sisters about what was happening. As we entered the hospital and approached the front desk, the nurse looked at us and immediately said that we were too young to see our mother. She told us to take a seat and that we would have to wait. I watched her as she told another nurse it was time for her break and that she was exhausted. I remember feeling ashamed that I had aggravated her.
I looked down at the tiny box I was holding—inside was a necklace that I had bought for my mother. On it hung a little key charm. I thought I’d be able to give it to her myself. My grandmother said she would bring it to her for me, but it wouldn’t be the same. The next nurse that came on duty approached us with a smile and asked us whom we were waiting for. My older brother, Randy, explained the situation. She asked us to stay where we were, and that she would be right back. I felt a sense of hope as I watched her walk away.
When she returned, she told us that she had arranged for all five of us to go outside on the lawn and look up at my mothers’ window. She would be able to wave down to us. We eagerly went outside and stood on the green, chilly grass. Again not speaking to one another or even holding hands. We were five separate children in the same state of panic. We waited a bit, and then I noticed the curtains begin to part. The first thing I saw was my mothers’ pale blue robe with the white bamboo trees on it. I noticed her lovely chestnut brown hair and then her sweet smile. She opened the window and waved to us. I saw the necklace I had bought for her dangling from her neck and it gave me joy to see her wearing it. She was positive and upbeat and tried to keep a calm face for us kids. Then she slowly closed the window, then the curtains and she was gone. I had never felt so alone in my entire life.
Some six hours later, a handsome physician in white came to us and told us that we could go upstairs and see our mother now. I was thinking it was silly that earlier that day, we were too young. I remember the coldness of the hallways leading to my mother’s room and the strong antiseptic smell. When we got to the nurses’ station outside my mother’s door, another stern, overworked nurse warned us that we couldn’t fool around. This was the last thing on my mind. I was not informed of what had happened to my mother, by anyone. There was no briefing and no warning of what to expect.
When I opened the door and saw my mother sitting up in her hospital bed. Her condition knocked the wind out of me. I felt sick and scared. Gone was her chestnut brown hair. Her head was shaven clean, revealing the shape of her skull and a gloomy hospital gown had replaced her serene, blue robe. She had a patch over her eye, and a tube protruding from her nose, but she was conscious. I was angry at what they had done to her. My younger, more outgoing sister slowly stepped towards the bed. She gently took her hand and quietly asked her how she was. However, I was frozen in one spot. I tried my hardest to smile as she looked my way. I struggled to find the strength to speak to her. Forbidden from crying by my own instincts, my throat became sore as I forced back saliva. I wanted to turn and run out of that room and just break down. I wanted to scream with sorrow and grief. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I knew she awaited my reaction to her condition. So I gathered every ounce of strength with every fiber of my being, walked to her bedside, took her hand and I matured right in front of her and assured her that she looked fine.