I just turned 66 and last night I got a birthday note from my sister. She wanted to know about my health, so I told her about the arthritis in my shoulder and knees, the swelling in my ankles that I get more and more often, the odd sensitivity in my teeth, those sorts of minor problems.
Afterwards, I thought about our mother.
She dragged herself through two cancers, chemo, a mastectomy, several strokes, near blindness, major heart trouble, and more and more.
She never gave up hope, however. Even when she had the final stroke that left her almost completely paralyzed, she still made it clear to me that she wanted to live, that she didn't want the doctors to allow her to die without a struggle.
I hope I go out the same way: Hoping -- like her -- even when I don't believe in hope.
Here's an old poem about my mom and her hope:
MY MOTHER'S OPTIMISM
When she was seventy-eight years old
and the angel of death called to her
and told her the vaginal bleeding
that had been starting and stopping
like a crazy menopausal period
was ovarian cancer, she said to him,
“Listen Doctor, I don’t have to tell you
your job. If it’s cancer it’s cancer.
If you got to cut it out, you got to.”
After surgery, in the convalescent home
among the old men crying for their mothers,
and the silent roommates waiting for death
she called me over to see her wound,
stapled and stitched, fourteen raw inches
from below her breasts to below her navel.
And when I said, “Mom, I don’t want to see it,”
she said, “Johnny, don't be such a baby.”
Six months later, at the end of her chemo,
my mother knows why the old men cry.
A few wiry strands of hair on head,
her hands so weak she couldn’t hold a cup,
her legs swollen and blotched with blue lesions,
she says, “I’ll get better. After his chemo,
Pauline’s second husband had ten more years.
He was playing golf and breaking down doors
when he died of a heart attack at ninety.”
Then my mom’s eyes lock on mine, and she says,
“You know, optimism is a crazy man’s mother.”
And she laughs.