FARGO — I’ve been thinking of my mom so much lately.
Part of it is that it has been eight months since I’ve seen her, so I am chomping at the bit to visit with her.
And part of it is that this is Easter, which always makes me think of Mom. I remember waking up on Easter morning to woven baskets stuffed with crinkly green grass, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs and jelly beans. I remember buying her Easter lilies, wrapped in gem-colored foil. I remember her annual Easter-bread ritual: making 16 loaves at a time of the sweet, soft, fine-grained bread with a thick, anise-flavored frosting.
I remember clambering up the hills of our farm to pick the first of the delicate, lavender crocuses — tiny little buds of spring hope amid the rocks and tough, beige grass of the prairie. We would rush them to Mom so she could enjoy their wild beauty and she would diplomatically place them in a glass of water. But they were so fragile — so fleeting — that their purple heads were already drooping on their fuzzy, sage-colored stems by the time they reached the house.
The fact of the matter is that holidays aren’t so much about fancy bread or baskets of goodies or even crocuses. They’re about the people who took the time to make those objects mean something. When the people are gone, the objects and rituals that remind us of them stay behind, but they’re never as good as the people who introduced us to them.
I’ve been especially aware of this in the last couple of months as Mom’s health has continued to concern us. We had thought that if she could beat cancer — pancreatic cancer, at that — she was practically immortal. It elevated her to superhero status in our minds.
But I didn’t get to enjoy “well mom” at all. Thanks to the relentless hell that is COVID, I wasn’t able to see her at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or when my sister turned 60.
Now, inexplicably, Mom is sick again. Not even a year after surgeons removed the tiny knot of cancer from her pancreas, she has started feeling as weak as when she received chemotherapy.
A couple of weeks ago, doctors discovered a rare condition with a deceptively playful nickname: watermelon stomach. In the simplest of terms, it means the blood vessels in the lining of the stomach have become so fragile that they are prone to bleeding. There isn’t a lot they can do, beyond blood transfusions when the blood loss makes her too anemic.
We were just grappling with this news — compulsively researching possible diets that could ease her symptoms — when we learned Mom had again wound up in the emergency room. This time, she suffered a heart attack. It was a mild one which, thankfully, didn’t damage her heart.
But it’s another blow to a beloved woman who used to wear me out with her never-ending projects and inexhaustible energy. This is the woman who took care of everyone else when stomach flu surged through the household. This is the woman who my dad used to tease for her “cast-iron stomach.”
I still plan to head home this weekend. Hopefully, mom will be out of the hospital and comfortably settled in her recliner. It allows her to chat on the phone with the daughters who didn’t make it home for Easter and to remind the daughters who did to check the ham or take the pie out of the oven.
Of course, I would prefer that Mom felt like her old self again. Of course, I want her to feel happy and healthy. But I know that Mom, busy or not, healthy or not, is still Mom. And I am glad to have my mother here, in any way, in any form. Because Easter isn’t Easter without her.
I think I’ll bring her crocuses.