Madeline eyes the silver watch in my mom’s hands.
“Can I wear it?” she asks.
Gaba slips the thin band onto Madeline’s tiny wrist. It’s not a watch my mom wears. It has an outdated style and its gears have stopped, and it no longer tells the time. But what it lacks in function and fashion it makes up for in nostalgia. The watch belonged to Gaba’s mom, the grandmother I’ve never known who died of breast cancer when my mom was 16. It’s one of the few tangible reminders my mom has of her mother.
“Gaba, when you die, can I have this watch?” Madeline asks.
Gaba tries to keep a straight face. Inside she’s laughing at the fact that her grandchild has already figured out that stuff remains when we die and that someone gets all that stuff. Madeline’s quite the opportunist.
Gaba agrees that Madeline can have the watch someday. “I sometimes pray to my mom,” she adds. “I think of her has Saint Dorothy.”
“I’ll pray to Saint Gaba when you die,” Madeline says.
More stifled laughter.
Later, when my mom tells me the story, I laugh, too.
Beyond the humor, there’s something touching about the story. I like the sound of Saint Gaba. That’s because when I look at my mom who is always smiling despite living with chronic pain, I see holiness.
Earlier in the week I watched as she gently bounced M.E. in her arms. “Do you want me to take her?” I asked, knowing her shooting sciatica pain is exacerbated when she lifts things.
“No. I want to hold her,” she said.
Later she lifted Rae into her arms. Then I saw her carrying Madeline who weighs just over 40 pounds now. She didn’t grimace or even grunt. She never complained. She never has – not about any of the crosses she’s had to shoulder, and she’s had some pretty heavy ones over the years.
“Are you nervous?” I asked her the other day.
“About what?” she asked.
“Uh, about your surgery on Monday.” (As in the surgery she’s in right now.)
“Oh, that,” she laughs. “Not really. I’m just ready to have it over with.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” Leave it to Eeyore to ask a question like that.
“It will and if it doesn’t, well, we’ll worry about it then,” she says.
This is the story of my mom’s life. Unflagging optimism in the face of uncertainty, heartbreak, physical pain, and emotional hurts. And humility – such beautiful humility that leads to a firm acceptance of God’s will for her.
Lately I’ve noticed my mom does look more tired. Sometimes there’s a stiffness that has never been in her gait as she walks. She moves more slowly up the stairs at times, and my Energizer-Bunny-of-a-mom sometimes needs to rest more. So there are physical changes if I look closely. But there’s something that hasn’t changed at all: Her happiness. She’s as happy as she’s ever been.
Part of her optimism, I’m sure, has to do with her temperament. We are all wired differently, and some of us are just more predisposed to seeing the glass half full. But there are times, I suspect, when my mom – Saint Gaba – chooses happiness over other emotions. My mom certainly pushes herself physically – holding grandbabies in spite of the pain, volunteering tirelessly as a Eucharistic minister to the sick, entertaining for friends and family – but she pushes herself spiritually, too, and bears her crosses as Christ did – quietly and with love.
We hugged when she was getting ready to leave. “Good luck with your surgery,” I said, holding her so close, hoping to smell the Beautiful perfume on her skin that always reminds me of everything she is. Beautiful.
“Thanks,” she says. “I’ll be fine.”
And I know she will be. No matter what the outcome of today’s surgery may be, my mom will be fine because she’s made the decision to count her blessings even when it would be far easier not to.
I want to be my mom when I grow up.