The call came late in the evening as I stood at our front door and watched as the city repair crew dug up portions of our street to repair the very obvious water leak. They worked until the very early morning hours to restore our water service. The only real consequences were no bath for Marty that night and it threw me out of rhythm, and we all know I’m a very rhythmic guy.
Then the call came from my number one son-in-law, a halting, kind of plaintive call asking a simple question before getting to the larger question, he said, “Hey Marty’s Husband, what’s going on?”
Marty’s Husband, “Not much son-in-law, how’s things?”
“Oh, not too hot, your daughter is not doing well; she’s got a really bad headache and has been throwing up.”
“That sucks,” I replied with more fatherly concern than it sounds.
“Yeah,” son-in-law says, “I wonder if you could come up tomorrow to help out with Lily?”
The question itself was simple, straight forward and belied a very simple courage on the part of son-in-law. He saw a need for his wife, my daughter, and a need for his daughter, my granddaughter, and called seeking help. I can remember trying to squirrel up the same kind of courage, call and ask for help. I didn’t do it very well or very often. My son-in-law clearly loves his family.
My instinct in changes to our rhythm, in any changes to my schedule is to go with the real easy, “Oh, I can’t.” “Nope,” has always been my unfortunate fall-back position. My brain ran through the list of things I needed to do in Waco, I needed to pay bills, I needed to exercise, I needed to be with Marty and the damn water was off and she didn’t get her bath.
In the back of my mind came the old arguments Marty and I used to have, she would want to do something different, my instinctual response was no. Instinct can be limiting and Marty hounded me to not always start with “nope” but to simply think before responding, to think what was really important, to focus on what could be better than just the same old.
I paused, took a breath, took a mental accounting of what needed to happen for me to leave early the next morning, pushed away from my baser, selfish instincts and said, “Of course I’ll come.”
Of course I would go; helping with my granddaughter was the priority, not the paying of the bills, not the gym, not the rhythm of life; of course I would go.
As I lay in bed that night I couldn’t help but think how much and how often in many situations like this our family misses Marty being Marty. It was in her nature to be the matriarch, the Victoria Barkley, of this family. She would have been right in the middle of helping, maybe to the point of too much. She probably would have driven up that night, she certainly never would have thought about not going and she would have severely chastised me for even having an inkling of not helping.
Our new normal mandates that I substitute for Marty, that I try to fill in the gaps the strokes took from our family when they struck Marty. I know I cannot be Erin’s mother or Matt’s mother, I know I’m a substitute for the real thing. I’m a pretty good substitute, the spirit is willing, but I am replacement for the real thing none the less. Marty was a good mother. She was a different kind of mother, one prone to profanity, one prone to telling dirty jokes, one prone to listening to you cry, one prone to offering the best and most qualified advice.
I know how much both of our children have missed Marty’s presence, her advice, her confidence and her intimate involvement. I know there are times in her life, when Erin feels Marty’s absence, Marty’s inability to mother, the most.
Marty and Erin, mother and daughter, so very much alike and often at each other’s throat, only to be followed by whispering in each other’s ears and laughing out loud. There is no bond like a mother and daughter and I think a woman wants her mom when she has her first baby, Erin gets her dad.
Marty is painfully aware of her lack of a maternal role. I’m aware that she feels less than, that she feels guilty, that she feels she is not doing what she was intended to do. Marty’s response to my quick trip to Dallas, “Poor guy, that’s what I should be doing.” I love that she knows, I hate that she knows.
I did the parental duty and loved doing it but, as always, missed Marty. I didn’t wish she was pre-stroke Marty to relieve me of my responsibilities, I mostly wished she was okay and functional so she could have the same joy I did as I sat on the couch feeding our precious Lily. I wished she could truly feel and give voice to the pride in our daughter and her husband in how they are caring for dear Lily. I wished she could connect and feel the power of holding and feeding the vulnerable and the innocent.
That’s where we are, the agony and the joy of recovery six years post stroke. Marty is aware of what’s going on, she’s aware of what she can’t do what she once did. What I hope Marty knows, what I want her to be aware of, is how much what she has been, how much of what she is today impacts my thinking and my doing. I want her to know how much of what she was as a mother is being lived out by both her daughter and her son in how they care for their own children.