It’s been 10 years this week since my mother’s first operation. She had fibroid tumors that had become unbearable and a hysterectomy was planned. A few weeks prior to the operation she had become agitated. I remember she had come into the city to see the tree in Rockefeller Center. I know my Dad and two sisters, Colleen and Lisa, were both there but I don’t remember much else except we ended up in St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street. It was decked out for Christmas and our group was just the opposite in cheer. She had us on our knees praying in a pew and was beyond consoling. Frightened to death of the future is the only way I can describe her. We thought she was exaggerating. I’m not very religious and my mother has taken every opportunity to win me over. I wasn’t really sure if that was another one of those moments. I now realize she had a premonition.
The day of her hysterectomy she told all of us she didn’t want any of us there. No dramatics. My mother hated being the center of attention. Only my father was to go and since he fell asleep during all of our births, she just assumed he’d sleep through this too. It didn’t feel right to me. I asked three friends what I should do and every one of them said, “Go sit in the waiting room.” I know I had something important to do for work. I don’t remember what it was but I know it was the very first time in my life I put family first. I drove out to Huntington Hospital on a freezing cold afternoon to join my father in waiting. Fairy lights twinkled along the sidewalks as the winter skies started to darken.
It only occurred to me as I parked the car that we would get hungry. An old stale bag of pretzels sat on the back seat. I grabbed them and went in. There in the corner of the waiting room was my Dad. He didn’t see me and I stood there a bit in shock. It was the first time I realized how old he was. For 78 he was in good shape. The key phrase being, “For 78.” His hair and skin a luminous bright white. I had never noticed before that he was now an old man. Wide awake with worry written all over his face he stared out into space. He shouldn’t have been alone. What was my mother thinking? I joined him in the corner offering up my bag of old pretzels. “Hey Dad, I’m afraid this is all I brought.” His eyes brightened as he looked up. He said, “Mae Louise.” as he took the bag. He devoured them, updated me as to when my mother went in and then started to rattle his keys in his pocket.
His pockets played for a long time. We ran out of things to say and eventually I wore worry on my face too. Something went wrong during the operation. We wouldn’t know until later that they nearly lost my mother that afternoon. Her fibroid tumor was cancerous and the removal complicated. Leiomyosarcoma. None of that would come out until weeks later. All I knew by the end of that night was that I’d never put my family second again and no one I loved would sit alone in a waiting room. I learned that by looking in my father’s eyes.