I used to think my mom was invincible. But, as I looked around her dimly lit room with soft summer light breaking through the dusty curtains, I could no longer recognize the figure in my mother’s bed.
She didn’t have the passion and love for life that my mom had. She didn’t smile when she saw me hovering in the doorway. Her sunken, pale face lay on her vintage throw pillows, her eyes fluttering in and out of a light sleep. Her bony body stayed curled up like a child on her bed, just trying to make the pain stop. I stood frozen in the doorframe. My eyes floated around the room and stopped on a picture of my mom and me. Though it was taken only a few years ago, it felt foreign and distant.
I debated going in. I couldn’t take the pain away. I couldn’t pretend to understand what having my body fail me was like or how much pain she was in. “I hope you feel better,” and, “I’m praying for you,” seemed flat and dry after years of saying it. I did not want to see my mom as anything other than stronger than me. I watched an illness no one, not even doctors, could understand, eat away at my mom, our time and my memories.
In 2011, everything changed. It was my freshman year of high school when my mom found a red ring around a tick bite. She received Lyme disease medication and life carried on, but so did her symptoms.
At first it was just the Lyme disease, but then other symptoms appeared. Her muscles were achy; she had seizures and constant body and head pain. After seeing multiple doctors and receiving countless medications, she was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which means that she cannot get rid of certain toxins from her body. Walking into a store, eating the wrong foods or being near someone with perfume can send her body into seizures and shock. She suffers constant headaches and blackouts from the swelling of her brain. The Lyme disease, mold exposure and chemical sensitivity have caused permanent brain and body damage.
I would love to say that I was the daughter parents like to gloat over, the one who took care of my sick mom any time she needed me and made life as easy as possible with a loving heart, but that wasn’t always me. I was angry and hurt. Though I helped her a lot when I could and when I knew how, years of her disability had drained me. Grocery shopping, taking care of my siblings and giving moral support became tiring and I ached for our old relationship. She used to sit on my bed and play with my hair while I told her about my day. She used to go to my volleyball games. I remember begging to go to the grocery store with her just so that we could spend some time alone.
Whenever I saw other mothers at events, I would subconsciously scan the crowd for my own until I was reminded of the cruel reality that she couldn’t attend. Sometimes she did fight and try to go places, but I was always on edge about what might happen to her and how guilty I’d feel.
My mom is a good mom. She wants everything most mothers want for their daughters. She tried her best to be a good wife, deal with a blended family, make money and be the best mom she could while being sick, but I shut her out. I stopped telling her details of what was going on in my life because I stopped wanting to. How could my daily struggles matter in comparison to the illness she was battling? Even complaining about a headache seemed irrelevant and insensitive.
I watched as my younger siblings were robbed of having any memories of a healthy mom. I have memories of her running around the yard barefoot with me through my fairy gardens. I have memories of her hiking and throwing me on her back when my small feet gave out. She was a daredevil and I remember feeling amazed at how fearless she was. However, my siblings will never know that side of Mom. My sister liked to “be Mommy” by pretending she was too dizzy to walk, so she would plop her little body on the couch, just like our mommy did.
I wanted to be just like Mommy too, but I wanted her strength. I wanted her laugh. I wanted the sparkle her blue eyes had when she was genuinely happy. I wanted her confidence when she sang ’80s songs on the radio. I wanted the way she loved others, even if it meant giving away everything she had. She was my hero. If I had a problem she would be there, holding me until the pain stopped or making me laugh until it felt like the problem was gone.
But what do you do when your superwoman can’t fly anymore?
Her whole identity in my mind was shattered. She was fragile, sick and lost. I wanted to know her again, which meant listening when I didn’t want to listen, being her strength when I didn’t know how, putting my needs on hold and finding a new normal in the midst of chaos.
The world isn’t fair. We’re handed the cards dealt to us and we do the best we can with them. People say it makes us stronger, but the only option we have is to keep going and see the good in it all. I was able to find the good. I was able to switch roles with my mom and do my best to give her back the care and love she had given me.
She is still my superwoman, even though she is sick. She fights when there is nothing left. She wakes up everyday and tries her best. She gets through the pain. She makes sacrifices. Sometimes, in the small moments, I’m able to look in her glowing blue eyes and see her softened spirit shining through the pain, and it’s even more beautiful than I remember it.