Today I cried over my mother for the first time in more than four decades. My mother lives in a nursing home, marooned in a wheelchair. She’s often confused, and though she’s been in the United States for over 60 years, she frequently reverts to her native Spanish. That is something new for her. When I was growing up, Spanish was the language of my mother’s curses and frustrations, most of which were lobbed at me. I frequently ducked the shoes, the food, even the plates she threw at me.
Today, though, my mother was returning to her nursing home from the hospital. She tested positive for COVID-19 three weeks ago and was asymptomatic for all that time. Even the relentless coronavirus virus was scared of my mother. And then the other day my mother couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t hold down food. The virus was duking it out with her.
The doctor from the home called me to secure permission to send Mom to the hospital. I, the oldest of her three children, am deputized to take on this responsibility. I am legally empowered to make life and death decisions for her. Last month my mother underwent a clinical examination and “it was determined that Mrs. Bolton lacks capacity to make or communicate her own health care decisions. Therefore, you are now activated as Mrs. Bolton’s health care agent.”
The notice chilled me beyond bone. Did I have any questions or concerns, the letter ended. Of course, I did. I have had a lifetime of questions and concerns where my mother is concerned. We have shared a lifetime of bad blood. But there was no question that she needed to go to the hospital. Was this the best number to reach me if I need to act as her healthcare proxy, asked a nursing home bureaucrat. There is no best number for this sort of thing, I wanted to say. Only I stand between my mother and her mortality.
At the hospital, my mother was bombarded with antibiotics for COVID-related pneumonia. A few hours later, her breathing improved. The next day her saturation levels were normal. She no longer needed oxygen, and I was off-duty. She would be discharged the next afternoon. That is when I suddenly wanted to see my mother. So my husband, daughter, son and I donned masks and met her ambulance as she arrived at her nursing home. The EMTs were kind and heroic. They opened the back of the ambulance so we could visit with Mom. We each called off our names from behind our masks. “I’d know you anywhere, Mamita,” she said to me in Spanish. That’s when I cried.
She was masked too, and in a hospital gown. She looked so small on the gurney. Her thick eyeglass lenses magnified her eyes to a bug-like size. She was crying too, as she vigorously waved at us. And then I said to her, “Te quiero, Mamá.” We both knew it was the first time that I had told her I loved her since I was a child.
This essay was originally published on HowWeAre.org