Life Is Fragile: What My Mom’s Illness Has Taught Me
In middle school, we had well-meaning, completely-out-of-touch teachers (according to us) who thought that it was important to include “life lessons” as part of the curriculum. These lessons included how to write a check (long before Venmo or PayPal), how to open a bank account, how to respond when our bodies started to develop and what on earth a maxi pad was—just to name a few.
I Learned a Big Lesson in Middle School: Life Is Fragile
One of these lessons we were unwillingly tasked with was carrying around an egg all day. We were informed that this smooth, white egg was representative of our baby child. “Raising a kid is tough,” one male teacher noted. “This will show you how very hard it is to care for something, protect something,” another noted. And my favorite teacher, a woman who loved to wear silk blouses and had electric strawberry hair with tight curls that sprung in all sorts of fun directions (she was so cool) said this: “Life is fragile.”
Unfortunately, my poor little baby egg lasted about two hours until gym class. I’d forgotten all about it and went to sit down along the sidelines during basketball right on top of my sweatshirt—which was serving as a makeshift little nest that I had bunched up around the egg. I heard a little crunch and felt something wet. Hurriedly, I shot up the way tweens do when they are embarrassed (lightning-speed), grabbed the sweatshirt mess, and then got back to the locker room to change and say goodbye to my little egg friend. “Nice knowing you,” I said as I dropped the little pieces of shell into the toilet and watched them swirl away.
Sometimes I forget how fragile life is, how fleeting.
I’m Reminded That Life Is Fragile as I Watch My Mom’s Battle
My mom called me a couple of days ago from the hospital. She was in again for another round of Immunoglobulin (IG) to treat the symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that have mysteriously been recurring for some time now. There have been tests upon tests: blood drawn, multiple spinal taps, hours of MRIs in uncomfortable and excruciating stillness. Pokes and prods. A steady hum of beeps and blinking red lights. Doctors and nurses and aides.
My mom has also, against her desires, been subjected to a new cyclical pattern of life based around shift change when someone new (someone who will help her do the most private things) is introduced by just a name on a whiteboard and a faint, imperceivable smile behind two masks and a face shield. All day she must stare at that whiteboard with the faces of the “pain scale” staring back at her; sometimes the eyes on those little faces snickering mockingly. Those creeps.
Some days are better than others. Some days we can laugh and tell stories as if I was 13 again and she was how she used to be, the strong one who ran circles around me and my brother; the woman who made the best Goliath-sized blueberry muffins on Sundays; the woman who cried, no matter the occasion; the woman who smiled and was always compassionate (even when it was hard); the woman whose brilliant eyes looked so striking circled in thick blue eyeliner even when sad; the woman who smelled like chocolate milkshakes and chamomile tea. If she had a color, it would be the softest, most beautiful rose quartz.
It’s Hard to See My Mom Sick and Growing Older
Other days, she has a hard time making it from the hospital bed to the bathroom, or the uncomfortable armchair next to the window that overlooks the top of another wing of the hospital with giant metal fans responsible for doing God-knows-what and the occasional workman tinkering.
Some days hair goes unwashed, makeup is no more, and the only smells are those of disinfectant and red Jell-O. Some days she really does seem 70. Some days her eyes look tired even over FaceTime, and I can hear the fear and anxiety in her voice.
She told me recently on one of these tough days: “We aren’t guaranteed time. You might think you have all this time like I did: ‘I’ll retire and then do this or that. Or go here or there.’ We forget how little we actually control.”
Being in the hospital with illness or waiting for those test results or for some global catastrophe to end is life-shaking, like an earthquake of meaning that rattles us from our sometimes-sleepy lives. No matter the degree or type of pain or suffering, it changes us—and those who love us.
And I’d like to argue that it can also change us in a good way. Illness or whatever ails us can help to wake us up to the truth that life is fragile. Temporary. We are the little egg. And it goes by so quickly, almost in the blink of an eye. All of this begs us to ask the question: what are we going to do with our fragile, little lives?
Illness or whatever ails us can help to wake us up to the truth that life is fragile. All of this begs us to ask the question: what are we going to do with our fragile, little lives?
Seeing That Life Is Fragile Can Wake Us Up and Help Us to Live in the Moment
I had some shame around the fact that I couldn’t keep my little egg from cracking early in the day. Some of my other awkward, acne-prone classmates cheered happily at 3 p.m. when against all odds, their eggs were still resting happily in the palms of their hands, their permanent marker happy faces smudged slightly but thin outside shells very much intact.
I looked down and there was nothing in my hands. They were empty.
It was in this emptiness that I did, indeed, learn a lesson from all those well-meaning teachers. Today, as I’m adulting (pretty hard), I’m learning this lesson again and again as my loved ones and I have struggled through some very intense illnesses and hardships. Like when my momma is in the hospital and the doctors aren’t quite sure why. There are so many unknowns and questions and sometimes so few answers.
Today, I’m resolved to the fact that my life, though fragile, has meaning and purpose. Some days I might not know what that is, and that’s okay. I might feel frustrated or angry that the people I love are sick or struggling with something that I can’t fix. This is okay, too. Amid all of these feelings and little earthquakes and life-disasters, no matter the magnitude, I am being shaken (in a good way) out of my sleepiness. I am encouraged not to waste my life but to wake up to it—and this is a precious, fragile, and beautiful gift.
For some quick words of encouragement to help in whatever situation you find yourself, watch this…
When life serves us hardships (and it will), we need to be reminded that we still have a purpose each day. Darlene and Julie share more about the impact we have in all of our life circles in this episode of This Grit and Grace Life: Doubt Your Influence? We Don’t and Here’s Why – 124