On the night of February 1st I received a phone call that once again brought change to my life. My mother had suffered a major stroke and was in an ambulance on the way to a hospital that was an eight hour drive from me. Twenty five minutes later, I was in my car driving north desperately trying not to freak out so I could concentrate on getting to my mom as soon as humanly possible. It was the longest drive of my life.
I was in the car alone driving over the Grapevine towards Bakersfield when I felt my deceased sister’s presence. She was in the car with me. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as the smell of her entered my nose and I could just feel her energy all around me. I turned off the radio, started to cry and had a strange one way conversation with her asking her to pull some strings if she could to make sure our Mama would live and have a strong recovery or if that were not possible, to please reduce her suffering and make her passing peaceful. Within a few short minutes as I drove down the steep mountain pass with the lights of Bakersfield shining ahead, the energy of my big sister faded from the car, so I turned on the radio and kept driving into the night.
During that long drive I reflected back to my time in chemotherapy when my mother and brother put their lives on hold and drove down to my house to care for me and my family for five weeks. They cooked, cleaned, did laundry, drove me to chemo, and nursed me through some of my sickest days. They never complained although I am sure they were tired and as the weeks went on Mama planned our Christmas that year; even getting all of us stockings and filling them with presents. That Christmas was one of the best Christmases of my life because of my mother and brother who gave of their time, talents and resources selflessly.
I arrived to the Northern California hospital at 3:34 a.m. I had made the eight hour drive in six hours. Taking the elevator upstairs to the critical care unit I felt my body start to shake, tears started to well up, and my throat felt swollen and tight. I walked down the silent hall to the double doors of the locked unit and picked up the white phone off the wall asking to be let in to see my mother. The doors swung open slowly, revealing several glass encased cubicles containing some of the most tragically sick people I had ever witnessed. Walking past those glass rooms I noticed my step sister standing outside the last room on the unit and she started walking towards me with a very serious look on her face that sent me into a full blown crying session. Her arms wrapped around me and she was shhing me; telling me how much better Mama was doing since the doctors gave her a special clot busting medication after her stroke. Already mom was responding and regaining strength in her paralyzed right side. Feeling fortified by that news I pulled away from the embrace, took a deep breath and walked the last few steps to the end of the hall where I entered Mama’s room. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw yet instinctively I knew I could not fall apart again. I had to be strong for my mother.
Seventeen days my mother spent in hospital. Ironically (or maybe not) I had spent seventeen days in the hospital after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and having my surgery. I slept in a bed chair next to her bed and cared for her around the clock only leaving once a day to get food and have a daily session of yoga. Yes, I did google the available yoga studios in town and almost every day I managed to attend a class because self care is important too. I would leave the hospital and cry on my way to the yoga studio and then work things out on my mat finding solace in the asanas and forgetting for 75 minutes the situation we were in. I dedicated every practice to my mother and to her recovery.
Going through this ordeal with my mother has been an enlightening experience for me in many ways. It was my turn to become the caregiver instead of the patient and I realized how difficult it must have been for my entire family to watch me go through major surgery and eleven months of chemotherapy. I spoke with my husband and children when I was up north and thanked them from the bottom of my heart for taking care of me. We spoke of the pain they experienced during that time and the utter helplessness they felt because they could not take my pain away. I thought a lot about my Be Well partners Heidi and Mary, reflecting on what they must have experienced as caregivers for their parents who battled cancer and the pain they must have felt watching them suffer with their disease. Perhaps it was similar to the pain I was feeling every day with my mom, helplessly watching her as she struggled to eat, walk, and speak again.
At the same time I was feeling such acute pain I also felt gratitude. Gratitude that my health is great and that I was able to drive north to care for my mother. Grateful for the time we spent together, how we even joked around about having an extended mother/daughter slumber party together. I am so grateful for the practice of yoga and the space it allows me to exist in peace and stillness no matter what is going on in my life. I am grateful to the yoga studios that I visited and how they felt like “home” to me. There is something about being in a room of breathing, sweating yogis that creates a feeling of unity and oneness; all of us part of the Divine. Finally, I understood why people were so generous to me after my cancer diagnosis. It feels good to be able to give in some way to ease the suffering of another being.
I am happy to say that my mother is back at home now and she is going to outpatient therapy to rebuild her language abilities. She is frustrated at her limitations of speech but happy that her strength and mobility have returned to her right side and she can now walk unassisted; cooking again in her beloved kitchen and sleeping in her own comfortable bed at night. I am so grateful to the doctors and nurses who provided such excellent care to her. I am planning a drive north in a few weeks to stay with her again and give to her all my love and any help I can.
My trip north was a beautiful gift of time to my mother and I. It was also a lesson to me on the importance of self care. When we are called upon to give to others we need to remember to fill our own selves up as well. It is vital that we take care of ourselves during times of stress and turmoil; both to avoid caregiver burnout and to be more loving human beings.
I encourage you to give more to yourself. Taking time for your yoga practice, time to sit in silence, time to take a walk outside, or maybe time to bake that yummy batch of cookies. Perhaps life is challenging right now and practicing self care needs to be on the top of your to do list or maybe everything is smooth sailing at the moment and you feel such an abundance in your life that you feel called to give to others. Whatever the case may be in this moment, please remember that there is an infinite source of Love available in the Universe to flow wherever it is needed.
With love, peace and light,