A Resurrection Story
My mother often wound up in the hospital during the last decade of her life. She had good health insurance and a good many ailments, and she generally outstayed two or three hospital roommates.
One afternoon she got a new roommate, her third. But not for long, I thought. Because this one was about to die. The tiny grey-haired woman, whom I'll call Mrs. Anderson, was sleeping the far distant sleep of the almost-dead. I have never seen a person more clearly under the shadow of death. She had left this planet in her mind, and her body was about to follow.
An aide brought her dinner and tried to shake her awake. Her oxygen tubes and IV tubes rattled, but she gave no response: he might as well have shaken a doll.
When I came back the next morning, my mother had no breakfast platter, as she was scheduled for a test that required an empty stomach. Mrs. Anderson had acquired a breakfast platter and a daughter who was trying to get her to eat from it. But Mrs. Anderson's eyelids didn't even flicker. She was still far from us, waiting in the anteroom of heaven.
Finally the daughter disappeared. Maybe she's Catholic, I thought, and she's gone for a priest to administer the last rites.
Turned out she'd done no such thing.
She'd gone to the airport and brought back her two sisters. And now there were three of them, all tall, slender, and blonde, all with a family likeness. And all attempting to resurrect their mother from the almost-dead.
"Mom? It's Deb. I flew clear from El Paso, just as soon as I heard."
"It's Connie. I've come to be with you. I love you, Mom. Please, please just open your eyes and look at me."
"Just look at me. Please. Please." Her voice was shaking.
Mrs. Anderson's eyes flickered just for a moment, then closed again.
One of the daughters disappeared. She returned an hour later laden with food. She had obviously hit a grocery store and hit it hard. Now they had their own grocery store. I wished my mother could have something from it, for lunchtime had come and gone, she had received no lunch tray, and the orderlies still hadn't come to take her to her test.
The Anderson daughters continued to struggle. "Mom? How about some mandarin oranges? You know you love mandarin oranges. Num num. Or a doughnut? Just one bite? It's chocolate frosted." No response. Her eyelids didn't flicker.
Why don't they leave the poor woman to die in peace? I thought.
"We need you, Mom. We love you. You can get well." But Mrs. Anderson was far from us. The shadow of death lay over her, thick and dark.
Silence fell. I glanced over at her. One of her daughters had climbed into bed with her. She was snuggled up like a snuggly spoon, cradling her mother's back in her young, warm bosom. One arm was over her mother, holding her close. She was willing her warm, loving life into her mother's almost dead bones.
Now there's an idea, I thought. And tears came to my eyes.
The hours of the afternoon dragged by. My mother lay uncomplaining as I went repeatedly to the nurses' station. Yes, they said, her name was on the list of those to be picked up for a test.
Two o'clock, three o'clock. Poor Mother had eaten no breakfast or lunch, and soon it would be too late for a dinner tray.
Four o'clock. Still the Anderson daughters crooned to their mother, talked to her, held her hand, stroked her hair. And took turns climbing into the hard, narrow hospital bed, snuggling up to her, and holding her tight in loving arms.
Her eyes were open now, as she lay there.
At four-thirty the orderlies came for my mother. She and I spent the next two and a half hours in the bowels of the hospital. Mother was unable to talk because of a stroke, and I stayed close to give her medical history to the imaging test technicians.
At seven they wheeled Mother back into her hospital room. And while we were gone a resurrection had taken place.
Mrs. Anderson was sitting up in bed, her eyes open, a smile on her face. Beside her bed were her daughters and, of course, the grocery store. Plus the remains of a dinner tray, which she had apparently sampled.
I was delighted for the Anderson daughters. Then my mind returned to my own mother. "She hasn't eaten for more than twenty-four hours!" I told the nurse indignantly. "And now it's too late for a dinner tray."
Then the Anderson daughters kicked in. "We've got lots of food over here!" they said joyously. They did indeed.
We settled on crackers and peanut butter from the nurses' station and a banana from the Anderson daughters. While Mrs. Anderson beamed on us from her bed.
"I was pretty sick for awhile there," she told me with an embarrassed smile. "But the girls said they needed me." She gave a loving look to her daughters.
"We do, Mom. We need you! You're going to get well." And they returned her loving look.
When I arrived the next day, Mrs. Anderson, her daughters, and her groceries were all gone, and an aide was putting fresh sheets on her empty bed.
"What happened to Mrs. Anderson?" I asked the aide, a new one who had witnessed none of the drama of the day before.
"Her? She was released this morning."
"She was well enough to go home?"
"Apparently. The doctor thought so anyway."
As a little girl on a Montana farm, Janette Blackwell ate simple but lusciously delicious country cooking. Which food she brings to you in her storytelling cookbook, STEAMIN' DOWN THE TRACKS WITH VIOLA HOCKENBERRY. Her website, http://www.foodandfiction.com, brings you country cooking and nostalgic stories, while, at http://www.delightfulfood.com, she takes you on a personal, guided tour of the hidden culinary treasures of the Internet. E-mail her at Janette@foodandfiction.com
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