Today I want to share a post by my father, Mike Rapkoch, from his Ricochet site. My grandmother became critically ill about 2 weeks ago. My husband and I rushed out on the drive from Virginia to my home-state of Montana, expecting the worst. Instead, my grandmother recovered and amazed us all. My father was her care-taker during this episode and these are his words:
As time goes by I am ever more convinced that O’Henry’s reflection in the Gift of the Magi, that life is “made up of sobs, sniffles and smiles, with sniffles predominating,” is the truest description of human experience ever put to paper. I’ve spent the last two weeks at my mother’s side as she’s struggled–and I mean struggled–through a mysterious illness that has caused huge weight loss, brought on nearly constant nausea and vomiting, and triggered other very unpleasant gastrointestinal manifestations. The condition developed slowly over several weeks and had her doctors completely stumped. When she was ordered into the hospital things looked grave.
Since I’m not one to panic my initial reaction to the news was, odd as it may sound, to smile. Mom’s a tough old bird and has battled her way through a bout with cancer and a couple of major operations with, if not ease, at least with grace. I figured she’d be back on her feet toot sweet so there was no point in worrying too much.
Then mom called and the tone of her voice instantly wiped my smile away. She sounded so sick. She sounded so frightened. She sounded so desperate. Although she insisted I stay home, I was in the car and on the way in ten minutes. For all her protests of “you don’t need to drive up,” there was no escaping the plea in her voice “please come help me.” If she wasn’t sobbing I was.
I arrived in two hours, breaking one or two traffic laws along the way. Concerns over personal safety drain away quickly when someone you love needs you.
As I walked into mom’s hospital room I saw, for the first time in my life, true fear in her eyes. With a mock scold she said “I knew you’d come even though I told you not to.” Her words plunged like a dagger into my heart. “I knew you’d come” meant “I knew you loved me.” It was childlike and I cannot think about it without sniffling a bit. I was here now and could hold her hand as she faced down an agony she could not understand.
When I was a kid I had to be confined to bed for a year with Rheumatic Fever. It was a lonely life. But mom was there. On Christmas Eve, as she tucked me in, I saw deep love and pain in her eyes over my suffering. I can still see that look clearly in my memories eye. It was a look I hoped to one day repay. This was the day.
As the week went on mom began to tank. Wednesday evening she began to vomit uncontrollably. I was helpless. I pulled out my Rosary and began, in a daze, to run the beads though my fingers as I recited the prayers and sobbed. Every time mom began to gag and wretch I stopped, went over and put my hand on her shoulder, and said the only thing that made any sense: “I love you mom.”
Then, as the spasms of nausea took total control of her she looked at me and said “I’m so sick.” Like a child she was stating the obvious because the obvious was all that made sense. I am sure that the look on my face matched that loving look she gave to me all those years ago. The look of a broken heart which can do nothing else but join the suffering in love.
For a few brief moments the vomiting subsided and mom’s eyes closed at the brief and merciful reprieve. I went back to my Rosary. My brother Dan arrived and, as is the way of the Rosary, simply joined in. There’s no fire in the Rosary. It is a deeply meditative prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and it is a prayer of desperation. As Dan and I reached the end my sobs turned into sniffles as we prayed the last prayer, the Hail Holy Queen, with its heart rending words to the Blessed Mother “to thee do we cry, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” It is the perfect match to O’Henry’s insight. We sniffle, we sob, and we find comfort in the words “turn then O most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us and after this our exile show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.” Then we can smile–even and especially– in the face of pain.
More than that we can rest, like a child in his mother’s arms.
I count it a miracle that, as our Rosary came to a close, mom fell asleep, perhaps from the anti-nausea drugs, but certainly with the comfort of knowing her Heavenly Mother, and her two worldly sons, were with her. I went to mom’s house at about 2AM, and fell asleep, even though I was sure that I’d never see her again this side of heaven.
Of course I was wrong about that. I got back to the hospital about 8AM, and found mom quietly sleeping. The nurse informed me that the nausea had subsided around 3 and that mom had slept through the night.
A few minutes later my brother Geof walked in. Mom woke up, smiled, said hello, and sat up to talk. I was flabbergasted. A few days later they sent mom home, many pounds lighter and still weak and unsteady, but on her way back to her old ornery self (just kidding if you ever read this mom). She’ll be with Home Health for a few weeks. The therapists have assured her that if she does what they tell her she’ll be back in the swing of things in short order. And I’ll be heading home in a few days. That’s going to mean some sniffles but, as hard as it is to accept after such a scare, I have to let mom get back to her own life. She’s only 87 after all. Besides, by the time I’m ready to leave mom will be pushing me out the door because, well, she’ll need a rest from me.
I don’t really know how to close this. I’ll just have to give it a rest. Thanks again for all the prayers. Peace.