One Breath Is All It Takes

Life and Happiness

I spent the better half of yesterday with my mom, celebrating the fact that she gave birth to me and didn’t end up somehow killing me over the last 40 years of my life. Way to go Mom! I’m still alive!

But seriously, I wanted to take this moment, right after Mother’s Day, to write a little something about my mom.

When I was only about 11 or 12 my mom discovered, after months of late night emergency room visits and loads more nights of breathless sleep, that she had emphysema. Because it was so rare at the time, her doctor gave her one year to live. (Guess he feels pretty stupid now…) She sank deep into depression and Dad and I fended mostly for ourselves for awhile. She felt simply that her life was over because someone had said it was. As breathing became harder and sleep became more infrequent, she gave into the belief that her life was over.

After the year had passed, and much prodding was had from my father, she got out of bed, put on some actual clothes and began living again. One breath at a time. As years progressed so did her disease. At first it was a slight moment of being out of breath when she had exerted herself too much. (Up until about 5 years ago she refused to let anyone else clean her house – even if it meant barely being able to breathe while doing it.) At night she couldn’t sleep well because laying down constricted her lungs even more. As time went on she needed oxygen. She started out using it at night to help her sleep. Then she’d use it occasionally when she worked around the house. Eventually she needed it more and more. And she fought it every step of the way – refusing to wear it out in public until it became a necessity. Now she wears it daily, but sometimes it doesn’t help a whole lot.

mom me wedding

She wore her oxygen to my wedding, but refused to have pictures taken with it.

Over the years I’ve watched her. At the beginning I couldn’t even tell she was sick. Many others couldn’t either and, I think, some thought she was faking it. Now when I go somewhere with her, I’m aware of her movements, how slowly she walks, how much breath it requires to take a few steps and how blue her lips become when the air simply won’t come. I sense her frustration when the oxygen tank stops working for no reason or when level 3 simply isn’t cutting it. I park closer when she’s with me, drop her off even so she doesn’t have to walk as far, and my pace slows so she doesn’t have to struggle to keep up with me or feel like she’s slowing me down. She feels like she’s a burden and that our lives have been ruined by this disease. I say it’s made it better – I’m more aware  of how precious life is, how quickly it can be taken away – by a simple lack of the air that seems so abundant around us.

She’s been in and out of the hospital so many times it’s hard to keep count. Now, as she ages, the hospital trips seem more severe, more… frightening. Will it be this time? Will this time be the time? Will she have one more year or one more month? The emphysema won’t technically kill her…  bronchitis maybe. Or pneumonia. Or a simple cold. Her lungs weakening with each small cold or infection. Winter is a time for solitude – she rarely leaves the house due to the plethora of sickness lurking around every corner and grocery cart handle.

But she’s stubborn and has fought the disease every step of the way. She goes to exercise classes and has made friends with others who face her same fate. They encourage her, understand her and help lift her spirits when she gets down on herself. She still cleans parts of her house, still does the dishes and laundry (with Dad’s help), and still goes where she needs to go. It won’t stop her. Until it finally does.

But then she can say that she beat it after all. She lived 30+ years when one man said she wouldn’t live one. And I admire her for that – she got out of bed that day 30+ years ago. I’m not sure I would.

I’m sure my mom hates that I wrote this blog. She doesn’t want to put a light on this disease. Doesn’t want to let it define her and I get that, but it is what it is. As my mom she frustrates me like all your moms do you, but her perseverance, her stamina, her determination also push me to press on. There is nothing so daunting in my life that I can’t keep moving forward. She did all these years – I can too.

Who inspires you today?



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