Today’s guest blogger is Marielena Zuniga, an award-winning journalist/writer from Bucks County, PA. Her first novel, Jane, a contemporary re-telling of the classic Jane Eyre, is currently available for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Mom is upstairs. Dad says not to bother her. She’s sleeping. My mother never sleeps during the day and lately she hasn’t looked well. The bedroom door is open a crack and I peek through. She is on her side, her back to me, her knees drawn up. I am reminded of people in hospital beds. Something inside me wants to cry.
She is a stoic. Or in denial. I’m not sure. She has never been one to admit tiredness or illness. Somewhere in her life or in her Scotch-Irish genes she learned it was wrong to show weakness. So later, when I ask how she is, of course she says she is fine.
I feel her forehead and she has a fever. She explains it away, as she does most things. I was sitting in the hot sun, she says. Her eyes look strange. I don’t like this. She never gets sick. Ever. Something inside me is screaming this isn’t right. I want it to go away.
I walk outside, into her garden. Since she became ill, the weeds are tangling and mucking up the yard. It’s too much to see her flowerbeds in disarray, her rose bushes dying. My eyes fill. She is still alive, I scold myself. But what will I do when she dies, I ask myself?
The blood work comes back from the doctor. It’s not Lyme disease, as he suspected. I am at ease with this news, but also on edge. What is causing this? The sides of her neck are still stiff; her voice sounds husky and strained, her eyes are haggard and she has a chronic fever. The doctor is baffled. He wants to see her on Monday for more tests.
An unnamed fear lurks around the borders of my heart. I am teetering. I have struggled to find my life and now I fear for my mother’s. I am selfish. I fear losing not just my mother but my most ardent supporter. She is the person who planted a love of reading in me. When I was 14 she gave me the classic novel Jane Eyre to read. You might like this, she said. I read it 23 times that year. She is the person who encouraged me to write, telling me never to give up. But I feel like I am. My life is like her decaying garden, trapped in the briars of despair, yearning for roots and blossoms, earth and life. I have no answers. For anything.
Days pass and two weeks later mom feels better. Whatever plagued her body is leaving. The doctor never finds out what it was. But for me it is a wake-up call. I see her now in a new way. Her brief illness has taught me to appreciate each second with her. And I am grateful for all she is – the country girl who grew up in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, who married a Mexican-American and moved to Donna, Texas.
A woman who had to learn Spanish, live in a poverty-stricken barrio and care for her bedridden, demanding mother-in-law. The woman who had nine children, suffered with me, her oldest, through bouts of depression and struggled with some of her sons through troubled times as teenagers.
She is a woman who rose in the morning when only a rim of white lined the blue-black sky to make tunas fish sandwiches for lunches, wash mounds of clothes, and iron shirts and Catholic school uniforms. She is the woman, who with my father, celebrated at her children’s marriages and at the births of eight grandchildren, and rejoiced in her own 50 years of marriage. At age 62, she earned her Master’s Degree in English Literature and we were all there, cheering her on as she walked down the aisle of the outdoor stadium, her robe fluttering in a warm Spring breeze.
Most of all, she is the woman who has always smiled. She has hummed and sung her way through life. Many days the melodic strains of “Oh, what a beautiful morning …” drifted through the house as she stood over a pot of steaming chili or a sink of yolk-encrusted plates. And not once in her 77 years have I ever heard her complain. She always has had a trust and faith in God that is her solid center.
It is only now as I mature that I understand her stoicism. She has had to be strong to survive. She has endured more than any of us will probably ever know. And in the silence of her heart, even as she has suffered, she has always believed that God knows best and has the bigger picture, one we often can’t see. She has told me this when I’ve been at my lowest points. “It will be all right,” she has comforted. “I just know it.”
As we chat in the kitchen, I see mom is getting better. But she’s also growing older. She looks tired. The truth is, we never know how much time we have left with those we love. Now is all we have. Mom is talking about the latest book she is reading when a flash of red outside the window snags my eyes. It is a rose bush she has planted. One bud is beginning to bloom. Somewhere inside my soul, I tell myself it will be all right. I just know it. I reach out for mom’s hand. I tell her I love her.