Sunday, May 29, 2011

The trip to St. Louis

Around mid-April, we got news of my mother’s deteriorating health. She had initially been hospitalized due to complications from cancer, but after the cancer miraculously disappeared, she came down with a life-threatening infection. Each day brought bad news and it wasn’t looking good. Siblings and relatives on Facebook were posting things about my mother’s failing health and sending messages on how if any of her children wanted to see her one last time, now was the time to do it.

It just was really bad.

I tried to keep a stiff upper lip during the whole ordeal. I prayed for her every chance I got, putting my faith in God she will pull through. At the same time, however, I knew we might lose her. And I eventually accepted this.

When it looked like my mother was going to die, I broke down and cried. I hadn’t seen my mother for years. She means the WORLD to me. And now she was going to die.

My children were home at this time and I had to tell them the bad news. Up until then, I hadn’t said anything because I still had faith she would make it. But now I had to tell them that their grandmother was on her deathbed. We were all in tears and broken up about it.

Everyone was saying I should get on a plane to get out there to see my mother for what could be the last time. But I refused. I just couldn’t leave without the children. We didn’t have the money to pay for all of us to fly out there. Let alone for me to fly out there by myself. Even if we did, there weren’t any seats available on such short notice. (I know. I checked.) My husband tried to figure out how we could get to St. Louis to see her – one last time. I helped prepare for this journey knowing we might end up going to her funeral. I had this bizarre image of introducing my son to his grandmother via her tombstone.

Eventually, we had everything in order for the drive from Eugene, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri. But right then, my dad and sister were saying not to come out there after all. Wait until Mom was better and able to talk. Too late. We already had our plans in place. They had told us how important it was to get out there, so we were going to get out there!

We left Eugene on April 20th. We were originally going to leave on the 19th, but we had car trouble. My husband spent a day and a half working on that car until it was in good enough condition for such a long trip. We piled everything into the car: Books, games, toys, blankets, pillows, snacks and writing tools.

For some strange reason, I was parched during the first half of our journey. I was glad I’d packed a lot of bottled water into the car, because I was dying of thirst! Jesse was thirsty, too. So we took turns passing the water bottles back and forth. (I rode in the back with him.) Whenever we stopped for gas or the bathroom, we got more water bottles and drank those up, too. Thankfully, Jesse was very calm on the trip there. Jennifer kept herself preoccupied with her DS, books, writing/drawing and just sightseeing. We were fascinated by all the sights on our cross-country trip. We were surprised to see there was still snow in some parts of Oregon, as well as the rest of the country (Utah and Wyoming).

As we moved along on our journey, I kept track of the states we entered, as well as the date and time. In order to avoid confusion in keeping track of our timing, I relied on Pacific time. I still have that page in my notebook:

Left at 5:30 p.m. (Eugene, OR), 4/20/11
Entered Idaho at 2 a.m. next day (4/21)
Entered Utah at 6:22 a.m. same day
Entered Wyoming at 10:26 a.m. same day
Entered Nebraska at 6:30 p.m. same day
Entered Iowa at 2:15 p.m. on 4/22
Entered Missouri at 3:38 p.m. same day

It wasn’t until 1:00 in the morning that we arrived in St. Louis. But, oh boy! When we GOT THERE!! We were in for such a shock.

Because there was a TORNADO!


I could not believe it. I was sitting in the car watching that weather outside the car windows and thinking, “Oh, my God. PLEASE don’t pick up our car.” I started to quietly pray we would be safe. The weather outside was just insane. Rain, wind, and … other things. I prayed we wouldn’t actually see an actual person flying past us in this storm. The children were frightened by the storm outside of our car (they knew there was a tornado going on), and I kept assuring them we would be okay. My husband tried to alleviate their fears by pointing out the “neat” effects of the storm in the sky. I even joked, “Just call us the storm chasers!” I’d been texting my sister in California for the bulk of the trip (as well as relatives in Missouri and Illinois to let them know of our progress), and when I told her there was a tornado there, she texted back, “OMG get in somewhere.” I could only look around the confines of our car and think … WHERE?? We were on the highway! My sister in Illinois even advised us to seek shelter ASAP. I told her we were still driving on the highway. She said if it started hailing, we HAD to seek shelter.

The shelter thing was another problem. At first, we thought my dad had arranged for us to have a hotel room waiting by the time we got there. That’s what my sister in Illinois had told me before we left. But as we got closer to St. Louis, she revealed the bad news: My dad had NOT gotten us a room. We had to find somewhere to get a room. The problem with that was that we were very low on money and barely had enough for a room. I told my relatives and my cousin in Missouri rented us a room. (THANK YOU, CAROL!!! YOU ROCK!!) We were soooo relieved we now had a room to go to.

The next problem was getting there! Because of the storm, exits and roads were closed. There were police cars everywhere. It was so surreal. We ended up being commandeered onto the highway and ended up in a city that was about a half hour away from St. Louis! GAH!!! We were there then we weren’t there! So we drove back. Miraculously, my husband found alternative routes that were not closed and we finally got to our hotel room in St. Louis. PHEW! We finally made it!

And with our feet on the ground, too.

We had made it through the storm.

When I awoke the next morning, I turned on the news. My jaw dropped. I could not believe the amount of devastation the tornado had wrecked the night before. And we had driven through it!! I took a picture of one particular image of the damage that was on the news and sent it back to my friend in Oregon. She, too, thought that was pretty bad destruction from the storm. (I still have the newspaper from that day with all of the pictures in it.)

We finally got to the hospital and I got to see my mother. I must admit, my first sight of her was a shock. She did not look good. She had a tube down her throat to help her breathe. All these tubes and everything. It was pretty bad.

But I was just so insanely grateful I was finally seeing her again. Finally, after all these years, I was with my mother again. We tried to talk to each other but she could not talk very well. She was in and out of sleep and woozy from all of the drugs they were giving her. She did have problems remembering things.

I just held her hand and let her know we were all there. I told her we loved her and promised to visit her as much as we could. I also prayed over her, pleading to God to help her. Before she went into surgery, she and I prayed together.

At one point, it was really hard for me to continue seeing my mother like that. I had to cut one visit short because I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. My dad saw this breakdown and advised me, “Don’t fall apart.” He reminded me we needed to stay positive and upbeat. We couldn’t let her see us crying and all broken up about her situation. That would NOT help her to get better.

The whole thing was just getting to be too much for me to handle. I texted my sister in California about this. She said, “I know, I’m sorry.” Somehow, that sentiment helped me to feel a little better. Maybe she understood what I was feeling. And it kinda helped that she understood. Somebody understood this. It was like she had given me a hug from across the miles. So after that, when I prayed for my mother, I asked God to help me out a little bit, too. Just give me the strength to get through this.

Yes, my mother was finally able to have her surgery. It was a miracle. She was getting better, but she still needed surgery. That was crucial to her recovery. On her way to surgery, the nurses brought her bed to a stop in the hallway so that she could finally meet her 3-year-old grandson, Jesse. I will never forget that moment the two of them just looked at each other, Jesse smiling and Mom holding his hand. It was a dream come true.

While Mom was in surgery, I kept quietly praying she would get through it. I was ready to shout for joy when my cousin texted me to let me know she was out of surgery – and that she was doing fine. I also sent up a prayer of gratitude that she’d made it through.

After her surgery, Mom looked like Mom again. I don’t know if that makes any sense. She just seemed more … “alive.” Like herself again. She was even able to talk a little bit. My dad and I were with her. My mother could not use much of a voice to talk with and my dad had trouble understanding her. So I relied on lipreading to figure out what she was saying. My dad said it was a good thing I could do that.

We visited her for that day and then the next until we had to regretfully leave for the trip home. We managed to do some sightseeing while we were out there (took a ton of pictures) and reunite with relatives I hadn’t seen for ages. My children got to meet these relatives, too. Even I met for the first time relatives I had only heard about. We had all reconnected on Facebook before this trip, but actually seeing them in person did a world of good. I had visited with my mother on Easter at the hospital but we also had Easter dinner with my cousin at her house. I learned what amazing relatives I had. These people opened up their homes and their wallets to us during this time. They were just so awesome and I don’t think this trip would have been possible had it not been for them. Thank you to all of yous who helped us out and gave your hugs and support. And thank you to those who visited my mother at the hospital right along with us!

When the time came to leave St. Louis, leave my mother AGAIN, I was really upset, but I tried to hang in there. We HAD to go home. There was no two ways around that. My husband had to go back to work. The kids had to go back to school. I tried to be tough about it, but inside, my heart was breaking. I know by now I should be used to being so far apart from my mother. But it’s hard. It really is. I didn’t want to leave her. But …. we had to leave. It was time to go. Saying goodbye was so difficult, but I promised her I would call. (And I have, when there is an answer and she can talk). So on April 26th, we left for home.

After we got back home, I kept tabs on how my mother was doing with phone calls, texts and Facebook. Thankfully, she is recovering. I pray she will continue to recover and that soon she will be able to go back to her home in Illinois again.

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