Monday, April 1, 2013

On Wellness

The Springtimes of my childhood were filled with forsythia and dogwoods, the soft velvet of pussy willows, the return of robins, hungry for worms after their their long flight north. The days were marked by the greening of the trees, and by daffodils, pushing their heads up from the thawing ground. Spring brought a cleansing, as homes around us cleaned and cleared in preparation for Pesach. Being ecumenical in the approach to life, my friends and I dyed eggs, while wondering where the Afikoman would be hidden, if we we would be the one to find it, and what our prize would be.

In the springtime of my fifth year, my mother took me downtown for a special girl's day, to buy a new dress to wear for the holidays. It was fabulous to have my mother all to myself, not having to share her with big brothers, father, dog, and whatever else could grab her attention. We were headed to Hecht's, waiting for the light to change to cross the street. There was a bus at the corner, loading passengers heading into DC.

Red light to green, and a flashing walk sign; look right, then left, then right again. I pulled on my mother's hand to cross the street.

"Not yet, Mamele, let both buses pull away from the curb. We don't want to step between them. The driver of the second might not see us."

I looked again. There was only one bus. What I was witnessing was one of the first manifestations of my mother's Multiple Sclerosis. It's called Diplopia, or double vision. The disease that would hound her heels, but never conquer her, had grabbed the brainstem, creating lesions, and causing problems for her cranial nerve.

Over the years, my mother's MS tried various ways to take over her life. But she was amazing. She charged forth, living her life fully and with flair. People used to say to her her how hard it must be to be sick. "I'm not sick. I'm one of the healthiest people around. I just happen to have MS".

Of course, the same knuckleheads would ask me if it was hard having a mother who was "crippled", because she used canes, or braces, or walkers, or wheelchairs to help keep herself mobile. What a ridiculous thing to ask! She was my mother; we rode the curves life threw us together. That was the life we knew. Any other type of life was not reality. I grew up with her coming to terms with what living with MS meant, but not being defined by it. I knew no other way. She was my mom, and she was terrific.

These thoughts recently came to mind in two conversations with an old friends, who found me online. For one, it was after a gap of close to 50 years, but she found articles that led her to me. She remembered the vision trouble my mother had in those early days of MS, back in Silver Spring. She said, when we reconnected by phone, "I know she was sick, and had such problems seeing, but there was always a twinkle, a sparkle in her eyes. Coming to your house was coming home. Like walking into your brain and feeling just right."

The other friend and I reunited via Facebook. He is  living with a life-altering disease. From what I can tell, he is facing it with courage, and reaching out to help others who suffer from severe neurological insults. In my mother's last days, when she was ravaged by the cancer that hastened her demise, we made a pact to face life with "courage, caring, laughter and love." It was only after she passed that I realized that was how she faced all her days.

Apparently, courage, caring, laughter, and love are a legacy she passed on to her offspring. I see it in my brother in great abundance; it was a way of life, too, for my elder brother before his death. And with my wonky health challenges, I do my best not to be defined by the condition. I'm not always successful, but even if I have to curtail an activity, or adjust to accommodate and stay safe, I try to keep going. It's not that I'm strong, or special, or smart, or wise, or any of that crap. I'm Ruthe's kid, and I'm living life as she taught me to do. I try to look twice before I cross the street, to not step between buses, and to walk forward, with a twinkle in my eye.


  1. I think you probably are *that* special

  2. Thanks. I'm assuming that's an April Fool's joke. :)