Not long ago I wrote about my father on my blog ... to me he was Papa. This morning, I honor my mother, Mama, and share with you a piece I wrote on 11/2/2005 after leaving a writing class at The Loft:
Friday afternoon, December 20th, 1968. I am in my usual corner of the hospital room. Mama is hovered over Papa. Tubes and IVs are attached to him. I don't think I understand what's happening. How can I? I am only 4. My parents are always supposed to be there. But why was this day, five days before Christmas, at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri different than any of the 90+ days I have just spent hanging out by Papa's hospital bed, playing with my toys in the corner as he slept. It think it must've been every 15 minutes that someone in white came in to wake him up or poke and prod at him. How is anyone ever supposed to get any sleep at a hospital?
I hear "Little Drummer's Boy" playing on the hospital intercom system. The halls are filled with reefs and Christmas decorations. The memory of my dad etched into the beat of the drum. This is supposed to be a joyful time, a time of celebration. Why did I not feel the joy in the room? Why does the air in the room feel so heavy? Has gravity found refuge in Papa's room? I feel the weight of my mother. Papa, a mere 39 years old, prime of his life. Conceding physically to an organism unseen to the human eye, a virus that has taken over his body. The virus are attacking Papa's body and Mama's spirit. The love of her life holding on as best as she can. Mama clinging desperately to a part of herself and true happiness.
"What is that light? Where is that beautiful light coming from?" Papa quietly says to Mama. Fear fills Mama's heart. "No God. No, you can't take him away from me!" She knows in her heart he is slipping away. He is slipping away as the rosary clasped in his hand falls to the floor. The cross remains in his palm. The rosary beads lay on the floor. Mama tells me now she knew that was God's way of telling her the "chain of life" was broken. Mama shuts all the blinds in the room and shivers as she says, "what light? there is no light." Desperate to hang onto his words of "i'm not ready to leave you and the kids." Desperate to believe that the love of her life is not going to leave her.
He slipped away that Friday afternoon - 3 pm, December 20th, 1968. So did my mother. Her spirit could not remain here. Her body did, but Papa took her heart with him unknowingly. He has been our bridge for 37 years. Some days we will both take that leap and open our hearts, and let grief pour out, and when it's all out, I wonder what we will make room for in our hearts?
In recent months, there has been healing taking place. My mother who is now in the Philippines and never calls, called me last night. She is getting weak. She misses me, she says and she wants to come back to the United States so she can die here close to her kids. Papa has been the bridge connecting the two of us for so long. I am learning the only way I can heal is to open up my heart and speak the truth. Mama and I have both learned to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We have fought desperately to not feel the pain -- for her, the pain of losing the love of her life; for me, the pain of losing my father, and at the same time, my mother. As I approach 45 years of age, I am finding my way back to myself, and Mama and I, are learning that we no longer need Papa to be the bridge that connects us.
I will be heading to the Philippines soon to bring my mother back to the U.S. I can tell she is preparing for the end. She tells me "I am ready to be with your Papa." I have witnessed a love that transcends anything I can describe ... today, 41 years later, my mother still speaks of my father and lights up. I love to see the twinkle in her eye. She talks about him today in the present tense. She carries his photo with her and her bedroom is like a shrine honoring my father. I have ached for my mother's love. Together, we are daring to shed our protective layers and as she prepares herself to cross the final bridge, I will be there, holding her hand and sending her off to once again be with the love of her life. And when the time comes, I will ask her to save a spot for me.
I love you Mama.
I love you Papa.