Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Today we brought my mother home from the hospital where she has lived since two days after Christmas when an aneurysm, on the left side of the aorta, began to rupture. She's sleeping now. I just tucked her into her own bed for the first time in almost two months.

But first, I served her a slice of buttered toast, with raspberry jam - and a cup of tea in the brown hand-thrown mug made by the daughter of her best friend from college.

First, I made her two organic scrambled eggs in the little saute pan that she always insisted I line with a piece of protective plastic before putting it back in the cabinet.

And we opened the Christmas present that my sister sent to her on December 23rd. A book of short stories - the same book, my mother tells me, she coincidentally, sent to my sister.

Anyway, she's home.

I'm ready to blog about it.

All year, I'd been studying the physical and spiritual anatomy of the heart - the way that oxygen enters the lungs and is circulated through the blood vessels, veins and arteries - the way that it cycles back back back to the heart.

So, when my mother clutched her jaw and then, her chest, I knew.

These are my notes from the hospital:

Beep beep beep. The monitors track my mother's life across a screen in waves. Heart rate is red. Blood pressure is yellow. Oxygen is turquoise.

Anahata is the Sanskrit name for the heart chakra, the emotional center of the body. Anahata means "unstruck."

In the Intensive Care Unit, people stand right outside my mother's door and discuss her case. They stand right over her bed, calling out terrifying words like stroke, cardiac arrest, pneumonia.

Could you take this outside? I ask her best friend, who happens to be a physician.
No, I can't, she snaps, unaware of the things of which I am aware. That thoughts create our world; that my mother is listening and that, out of the pictures that drift in and out of her consciousness, she is creating how all of this will turn out.

It's okay. She is aware of other things of which I have no inkling - blood gasses, dosages, saturations and infiltrations.
And she's terrified.

Two days before the wall of my mother's heart tore open, my son and I had a shouting match in her living room. It was Christmas. It happened that I was bleeding and I needed his help. It happened that his heart was breaking and he needed mine. Neither of us knowing how to ask for what we needed, we shouted at each other.

Two days later, my mother clutched her jaw and screamed, "This is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life."

I'm not saying it's my fault. I'm just reporting what happened.

The day after Mom's surgery, Max developed a stomach virus that lasted three days. Vomiting, fever, chills. I think he felt responsible and that this was his way of dealing with that.

That same night, my daughter, Katie, had a dream. "I am sitting in the middle of a circle of people. I am at the center of their activity but I am not one of them."

"There are two doors," she told me. "One through which things flow, the other opens onto a gate, which opens and closes.
Every now and then someone gives me a bite of a brownie and I drift away, losing my thread."

You dreamed Grandma's surgery, I tell her.
Yes, Katie says. But it's also my life.
Of course, it could have been a coincidence.

Last week in yoga, when I reached for the floor in Triangle pose, Suzi, my yoga teacher, said, "Shine out. Shine out from the heart with full commitment." I thought about something Max asked me once, when he was six and we were driving up a road that winds up around the edge of a mountain overlooking the Hudson River.

The river glinted with light, a rippling sheet of cellophane, flowing fire as the sun, barely risen lifted into the sky like a golden balloon.
From the backseat, Max asked, "Mommy. What's sunlight made of?"
He's 21 now and I still think about this.
The question is a koan, a riddle, a poem.

At the time, I said something about waves and particles, about fire and how hot the sun must be to be able to warm us from so very far away.
And of course, as I was talking, Max yawned. It wasn't what he needed to hear, or wanted to know. It had nothing to do with what he was asking me.
But I didn't know what to say.

In the Intensive Care Unit, my mother opened her eyes and looked at me. "You're such a lovely blue," she cooed. "How did you get so wise?"

A few hours later, there were hundreds of balls of white light floating through the room.
Or so she said.
"Can't you see them?" she smiled. "So pretty."

A few days earlier, I'd called on a million angels as my mother was wheeled into surgery, wearing the blue paper hat she was given by the anesthesiologist.
Now you're one of us, he'd said.
I am, she'd giggled.
So I knew what those balls of light were... even if I, with my unfocused eyes, was unable to "see" them.

"Your mother talks in poetry," the physical therapist said.
"Yes," I said. "She always has."

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, my eyes dart around the darkened room, and I feel afraid.
When it happens, and I can catch the thoughts that dart around the room, I see that I'm afraid that
some brightness will come - a ball of light, an angel or some truth that would be too bright to bear.

And what would be more terrifying than that? Imagine. An angel suddenly appearing, standing at the foot of the bed. I've heard that they're enormous. I've heard they are ten, twenty feet tall. Those wide, white wings would fill our tiny bedroom from end to end.

I can't imagine.

And yet I call to them, I beg them to help. I ask for signs. Who do I think it is dropping those feathers on my keyboard, those pennies in my path, in my shoes? Who?

Sometimes, when I get too close like this - when it feels as if it might actually happen, I look away - into TV screens and websites and mirrors.

But of course, that never works. At the hospital, I looked in the mirror and could not recognize my own face. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation. I don't know.

"Look!" Mom said, on the third day or was it the fourth? "See the Oriole - glowing there, on the foot of the bed? See it? Looking at me?"

On the ninth day, they moved her upstairs to the (oddly named) Step-Down unit.
On the 11th day, they realized she hadn't been ready and stepped her back up... down to the ICU.

There, blazing with fever, zonked out on drugs, Mom pulled me close. "They put a virus in me," she whispered. "Don't let them put it in you. It hurts."
"There's no virus," i assured her. "You had heart surgery. The doctors are only trying to help you."
"Oh, Amy," she sighed, closing her eyes. "They've got you hoodwinked, too."

The next day, she refused to eat. She told me, "They found out that I'm a saint. They're poisoning my food. Tomorrow, when I am on TV, it will all come out. I am a Saint. And when I am famous and rich, tomorrow, everyone will know..."

And I have to point out that this was from a woman who had, at 29, married a Jewish man in a non-denominational service. This was from a woman who hasn't been to church (if you don't count weddings and funerals) in fifty years.

For 14 days, my mother hovered at the edge of awareness - flickering in and out of sainthood, eight bags of clear liquid dripping into her veins (She called it "My holy water")

For 14 days, as my sisters and I (and our mother's best friend) clustered around her bed, I felt myself go liquid and solid and steam. Holding my mother's hand, I passed through a needle-eye, a wormhole, entering an inside-out world.

"What do you see?" I asked my mother.
"I can't say for sure," she told me. "I'll tell you when it's over."

On the 15th day, Mom opened her eyes.
My sister was sitting beside her bed.
"What's going on?" Mom asked. "Why am I still here? It's been five hours."
"It's been two weeks," my sister said.
"Two weeks! What in the world happened?"
"You had heart surgery."
"Oh, come on!" Mom laughed.

On the 16th day, Mom asked me, "So, what happened to me? Why am I here?"
She asked again on the 17th day, the 18th and 19th.
We had to keep showing her the scar.

On the 21st day, she remembered.

"I had to do this," she told me. "I had to be sick. It was this or some other calamity."
"Mom?" I asked.
"I had to do it," she explained. "I am doing this to heal someone else's heart. Someone who cannot do it himself."
I keep coming back to the mirror.
I stand on the mossy bank, slipping and sliding, I hold onto the broken tree.
I inhale, exhale. I watch my mother's vital signs displayed in wavy lines over her bed.

I see my face ripple outward, one circle inside of another, moving out from the center to infinity.

You know how it is,
once you’ve tossed your pebble in that pond
it will always be there, peering up from puddles, frozen in ice or sliding between your breasts,
to drip like rain or sunlight down the front of your shirt,
as if
it wasn’t a mystery fish at all


Julie Jordan Scott said...

So very beautiful, Amy. Your yoga teacher, Suzi, my yoga teacher, was so wise when she said, "Shine out. Shine out from the heart with full commitment."

I am grateful you took jots and notes while at the hospital and then so graciously shared the experience with us.

Blessings, blessings, blessings.

Coyopa said...

Beautiful, beautiful post.

It raises so many comments and questions and wonderings in me...

That last paragraph, though...
Ah, yes...

I have much more to say, but will say it in email.

Thank you for this, Amy - your writing is wonderful.

Cindy O said...

So glad to hear that your mother is home now! May the angels continue to surround her with healing and strength.

wholly jeanne said...

such an exquisite post. didn't you feel honored - sleep deprivation and all - to be there beside her through this poetry-making event she did "to heal someone else's heart. Someone who cannot do it himself."? i hope your mother continues to do well, dropping poetry all along her way.

Amy Oscar said...

Yes, Jeanne - I was honored and humbled to be a part of this healing re-birth with my mother. She led the whole family on a shaman's journey, searingly painful - achingly human. She taught us to FEEL in a new way.

Recently, my friend, Jill, caught me saying: THis was a crucible of healing. "That's too negative," she said, helping me adjust my language - and the picture it created, to "This was a powerful medicine."

beth said...

Oh, so, so beautiful. Beauty-full. And as I read it, I pictured your spiral notebook on your lap, hand furiously writing, your sweet face looking up and laughing.

Yup. That's how it is.

Trish said...


As I was reading this "I felt myself go liquid and solid and steam. ...I passed through a needle-eye, a wormhole, entering an inside-out world."

Just beautiful!

squarepegperson said...

Amy, ohhhhhhh this is beautiful, so beautiful!

So many lines jumped out out at me - had me catch my breath. This is one: "I felt myself go liquid and solid and steam." - that brought me back -viscerally - to one of my own experiences of "powerful medicine".

Like mother ~ like daughter with speaking in poetry, I think (and how gorgeous that is).

Like Julie Jordan Scott said: blessings, blessings, blessings...

Bridget said...

I love how your mother went through this to heal someone else's heart. I love the ties between your children, you, your mother. I love the simple details of your story, and how life turns on them.

I love all of this. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I am hopeful that your mother makes a full recovery and you can hear her everyday every moment poetry for a very long time.
Much love to you-

Amy Oscar said...

Thanks, Trish! And, SquarePegPerson, for the blessings... and Bridget, for the hope!

And Beth, thank you for being my partner. You know. I don't have to say it. But I have to. You know.

Susan said...

You take my breath away with your love, insight and trust.