This is story about my family that I wrote while taking a life story writing class.
One morning when I was four, I woke up to the sound of my mother, Gladys MARTIN HEISER (1921-1999) crying. I came down the hall to see her sitting on the little brown chair she used at the typewriter. Only she was not typing; she was hunched over, holding herself, and crying.
My father, Charles Leroy HEISER (1913-2001) was beside himself. I have only ever seen him more distraught two times in my life: the night before his brain surgery and the morning he clutched my mom’s hand as she took her last breaths.
Mom’s crying, and Dad’s demeanor, left me confused.
Soon there were two men in white uniforms at the front door, and they had a bed on wheels with them. They helped my mother onto the bed; and then they bumped the bed out the door, down the porch steps, and into a large white vehicle.
Mom was still crying as they took her away. The sun was shining and the trees were full of green leaves, but it was not a good day.
Mom was gone for about three weeks.
No one told me she was coming home. I was called to the living room, and there sat my mom on the couch next to my grandma. Mom looked tired, but wonderful to me. I tried to climb into her lap and hug her but was told not to because I might hurt her, so I sat next to her instead and leaned against her a little bit. That seemed to be ok.
My sister, Joyce, and I neither one hugged Mom for years after that for fear of hurting her.
Mom was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It quickly ravaged her body no matter what medicine they gave her. There were no biologics or methotrexate then, only anti-inflammatories and some disease-modifying drugs.
Like Paul in the Bible, Mom asked God repeatedly to remove this thorn from her side; and also like Paul, God instead gave Mom the grace and strength to continue on despite the thorn.
Mom’s illness changed all our lives.
Mom spent a lot of time in bed, although she somehow managed to make dinner every night. A lot of household chores fell on Joyce and me like washing dishes, vacuuming, dusting, and laundry. Sometimes we helped Mom shower and get dressed. Joyce and I were thankful when she finally gave up wearing a girdle. That girdle was murder to put on and off of her.
My mom did all she could to hold onto the normal life she once had. She still made the grocery list, but Dad and I did the grocery shopping. She planned the meals, though she sometimes needed help to prepare them. She continued being involved in the Masonic organization she and my dad were in, and she continued to work two nights a week. Two things she had to give up were swimming and dancing.
When I was a young teen, Mom went into a remission of sorts.
Or at least the rate of damage slowed down considerably.
Or there were not any joints left to damage.
She was crippled up by then. Her elbows were permanently bent, and she had almost no grip in her hands. Her ankles were nearly fused, and her walk was more of a shuffle, but she made herself get up and go anyway. She also wore a neck brace when riding in a car because of the arthritis in her neck.
The arthritis did come back later in her life, but there were better drugs that offered her some relief, although there was no undoing the damage the arthritis had done. And she had knee replacement surgery which helped with her mobility.
Even though her body betrayed her, Mom did not often give in to the disease.
We went on vacations and hosted holiday dinners with extended family. She taught Sunday school at times, and she helped me with my Girl Scout badges. Mom was not willing to let the disease steal any more from her than it already had. She pushed on and involved everyone in the family in her pushing on since she often needed help. We helped because she needed our help.
My life was transformed by my mom’s illness not once, but twice.
I instantly knew that it changed my life growing up when I was not allowed to sit on her lap anymore. But I did not understand how it changed hers until I had children of my own.
My own rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia made me dependent on others for some things and forced me to make tough decisions about how to spend my time and energy just like my mom had done since I was four. Working, education for my kids, my marriage, managing my home, church involvement, and more had to be viewed and scrutinized in light of my illnesses.
I finally had an inkling and a new appreciation of what Mom’s life was like and why she pushed to keep the disease from stealing any more quality of life from her.
Mom’s fortitude and strength impressed me deeply at that point, and she became my hero.
How about you? Who in your family is your hero? Comment below.
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