My Mom called me on the Thursday before my oldest (at the time only) daughter’s fifth birthday party. She was upset.
An almost week-long headache had worn her out, and she wasn’t feeling very well. This impacted her making my daughter’s birthday cake, thus the sadness in her voice. I told her not to worry and to rest.
I said I’d take care of the cake. I said I’d take care of things.
A quick aside. Mom had developed a well-deserved reputation for making the best looking (and tasting) cakes in our circle of friends, family and co-workers. She took pride in them, and for her not to be able to create her granddaughter’s birthday cake really hit her hard.
I reassured her that things would be fine and I’d do my best with the cake. I knew her, and her inclination would be to still try to make the cake even if she was feeling terrible.
Moving along to the day of the party (April 1st, the day before my birthday), we were getting ready to leave for the party setup, and my Dad called. He said that Mom was still feeling terrible, so they weren’t coming up for the party. He was taking her to the doctor to get checked out. I was disappointed, but I was glad he was making her go to the doctor. So, I told him to call later and let me know what was said, and we left to set up the party.
At the party, it was chaos, of course. In that chaos, my Dad called me again. He informed me that the doctor told them that they needed to take my Mom to Milwaukee (an hour away), as that’s where they perform Neurosurgery if it would be needed. It was at this point that my brain began to spin. Dad said my sister and brother-in-law would drive them down, and that he’d call soon. I was sitting in a roller rink, surrounded by kids and parents, but I felt like I was removed from them all. I discussed things with my wife, and we got through the party. Afterwards, we took everything home and I turned us around to start the two hour drive to Milwaukee.
As we were on the road, Dad called me. He said that Mom was sedated and resting, and he was going back home with my sister. At this point, I realized I was in a panic, so I took my wife and daughter home, and I told my Dad I’d drive with him to Milwaukee in the morning.
Dad called me very early that Sunday, and I could barely understand him. He was crying and scared. He didn’t know what to do.
I told him, “Dad, I love you. I’ll be right down there. I’m here for you.”
All of my panic and uncertainty went away in that moment.
My Dad needed me.
My Mom needed me.
I talked to my wife, we packed some things for me, and I took off for Sheboygan.
When I arrived there, I found Dad sitting in the living room looking disheveled and older than I ever saw him. I hugged him. I told him everything will be all right. I packed his bags.
I realized that our roles has switched. I am now THE Dad, and my Dad is now the frightened son, needing reassurance that everything will be all right.
Looking back, I’m amazed how quickly and effortlessly I shifted into the role. I felt that if I portrayed a sense of calm and confidence, everyone can lean on that.
There are times when I’ve forced myself to act a certain way, but this wasn’t an act. I was calm and confident then. I knew my job. I didn’t even think twice about taking it on.
After the initial breakdown on Sunday, my Dad did pretty well that whole day. Much of it was involved talking with the Neurosurgeon regarding the surgery my Mom was about to undergo, then waiting on the surgery, then finding out that they were able to remove most of the tumor from her brain. The surgeon described it as a corkscrew which wound its way into her brain, and this caused the swelling and pressure that caused the pain. After the surgery, we went to see Mom in recovery. My brother went home, and once again is was Father and Son.
Checking into the hotel near the hospital, Dad just collapsed from exhaustion. I went to sleep quickly as well. We didn’t talk too much about things that night.
We woke up early Monday morning, and Dad broke down. He was afraid of losing his wife, he didn’t know what to say or do. I had never seen him so helpless ever in my life. I steeled myself, provided him a source of stability in a rapidly disintegrating world. I told him to take a shower, get that negative energy washed down the drain.
I’ve always been better at giving good advice than actually following it. Any feelings I had I made the decision to push aside for now. Helping Mom and Dad through this was more important than me, by a long shot.
So, we go to the hospital and I’m the one who asks all the questions, makes all the calls. I update everyone in the family. I walk miles of hospital corridors, make sure Dad eats, makes sure Mom knows I’m there for her.
It was at this time I realized what it means to be a parent, and to sacrifice everything for your child. I’m still getting over it, and it’s been six years.
I ask myself if I regret it. Every time, I reply the same,
“Of course not. They have done so much for me, this is the least I can do.”
Going back to the hospital, I sit in the uncomfortable chair in the NICU. I look over my list of things to do, and realize I am here until the end.
I whisper to my Mom, “Mom, I love you. I’m here for you.”
I sit back in my chair and rub my sore legs.