The other night with all the Mother’s Day promotions stuffing my email inbox I sent my brudder-duh-heart-doc in San Francisco a short note.
I know, I know… I must be getting old. But I do have my rare moments of human kindness.
“Hey, try not to go too existential,” I wrote, “but I’m sitting here in the dark. Thinking. First Mom’s day without Mom… Life is life. It’s nice to know that people don’t really die until the last person who remembers them dies too… It’s a melancholy thought. But a delightful one. And so life goes… and goes… and voila, then it’s gone.”
And my older brother, the brilliant dork who got all the brains while I got the mental maladies, and who’s never shared more than a tablespoon of cod liver oil with his little, pain-in-the-buttocks, doofus sibling, replied:
“Interesting that you wrote this note, as I was thinking of Mom today also. But then again I think about her often. So many times during the day I think what Mom might’ve said about certain situations. Every time someone talks about my gray hair, I think of hers. Instead of forgetting about her, I think I am thinking more of her.”
Hmm… there’s nothing like the scars of age to soften two old warriors. It’s what becomes of the broken-hearted.
But even more interesting was the link my brother attached to an article he had penned a couple of months prior.
It seems that these two women, in their mid to late 60s, had presented themselves at his hospital weeks apart. And each of them was in the midst of a serious heart attack that had destroyed about 50 percent of their heart muscles.
But what was unusual was that their attacks weren’t caused by their arteries being clogged by cholesterol, preventing the flow of blood to their hearts, which then causes the death of heart muscle. Their heart attacks were caused by a spasm and constriction of normal arteries. And my brother surmised that their spasms may have been the result of certain people being quite susceptible to the release of adrenalin provoked by fear and anger.
And as it would happen one of the women was still severely distressed and angry that Trump had won the White House. (Do I need to remind you that this was in California?) And the other woman was all contorted about the Standing Rock oil pipeline controversy in North Dakota.
It turns out that both ladies had a rare variety of a heart attack known as Takotsubo – often called the ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’
And my brother conjectured that as far as he knew these were the first reported cases of a Broken Heart Syndrome type of heart attack induced by a political event.
Obviously my big brother doesn’t get out much. He should have tagged along with me in West Africa. And Russia. And Southeast Asia.
Needless to say these two women survived nicely. But all I could think was that a broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for such women in San Francisco, especially if they have a comfortable income. Because next week they’ll be stressing themselves out on something else – like the burnt coffee served at ‘Starbutts.’
Anyway my interventional cardiologist brother wrote on, to something that read like philosophy 101. That if the country wants to heal we’ve got to communicate more and understand each other better.
Hmm… No shit…
“Only then can we heal our broken hearts and divided country,” he espoused.
Obviously he doesn’t drink enough, either. Or he needs much bigger hearing aids.
But I wrote him back:
“Nice article… but never forget the old song: Only time heals a broken heart… So just don’t run out of time… tick-tock… tick-tock…”
You know, like Debbie Reynolds dying the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, succumbed. And my successful farmer and businessman Dad suffering a stroke that wiped out his mental motherboard not long after he finally and reluctantly sold the farm.
Such as it is. For in matters of the heart nothing is true except the improbable. We seem to forget that at the heart of the matter our cardiovascular monster only wants our blood.
And if my mother – who, like most mothers, was an instinctive philosopher — was still alive she probably would have smacked those two broken-hearted women a couple of teeth back.
For no matter what she seemed to be, big-breasted Mom was, for better or worse, as conflicted and whacky as the rest of us. Her rowdy laugh roared before sunrise; her heart bled from a thousand wounds, and her simple, straight–talking mind could easily foresee the future, because she gave birth to it in her children.
Her steeped philosophy was that there’s nothing you can do about the weather, so smile.
And indeed it was her smile that always greeted us that I was picturing that day, about a week after last Thanksgiving. Family and scores of friends had all gathered for Mom’s memorial service. It was at my brother’s grand-windowed house on the high and windy hill, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge straddling the glistening San Francisco Bay.
We handed out many of Mom’s hundred-or-so large, colorful, theatrical clip-on earrings. Joked that while most Thanksgiving turkeys taste even better the day after, Mom’s tasted better the day before… she cooked it in beer. And admittedly we were a tad disappointed that none of the gray and blue-hair lady friends had sashayed in wearing one of Mom’s signature, over-sized, pastel hats.
But the laughter all ceased when I stood up after my much taller brother to say a few words. I had just started to utter something about how we get old too soon and wise too late when I succumbed to the moment. And burst into a bottomless grief of tears.
What was happening to cynical, sarcastic me? Even my brother’s son, standing next to me, also an interventional cardiologist, was surprised. Here was his wise-ass, hard-hearted ,stabbed, shot and, worst of all, assaulted-by-editors uncle bawling like his newborn son.
What duh hell, what duh heck was this about, I could only wonder. The only other time I could remember sobbing this way was nearly 23 years back. It was immediately after I had to make a final, life and death, mid-surgery decision for my month-old, younger son, born with every congenital heart and lung problem known to science.
Now, a moment later my big brother slipped over to me and whispered softly: ‘I never told you it was going to be easy.’
But how could I have known?
And that’s the thing about the death of your mother, or anyone else you love: You can’t anticipate how you’ll feel afterward. People will tell you; a few may be close to right, but none exactly right.
No matter how many Mother’s Day come and go.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…