(Courtesy of Mickey Z.)
Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
November 10, 2020
(It feels like a good time to revisit these memories.)
I wasn’t supposed to be born. After my mother gave birth to my sister, the doctors told her she’d never have another child. They couldn’t say exactly why (but she was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis) but they were pretty damn certain… in that unique way doctors tend to be pretty damn certain.
My mother ignored such white coat hubris and less than two years later, yours truly arrived on the scene. She had to spend nearly all of the nine months of pregnancy in bed, but there I was. Mom called me her “miracle baby” and I think this played a role in the amazingly close relationship we always had.
When I was about 4 years old, I came down with a mysterious ailment that involved debilitating leg pain, the inability to walk, and an irregular heartbeat. For a while, my pediatrician thought I might have rheumatic fever. My ever-devout mother prayed nightly for God to spare me and give the condition to her instead.
Here’s the catch: I soon recovered fully to live an active, athletic life while my Mom (wait for it) came down with rheumatic fever, severe rheumatoid arthritis, and more. These issues hampered her health for the rest of her life.
I’m not gonna discuss or debate God, prayer, or any of that in this article. However, there’s one thing of which I am 100 percent certain: My mother meant it with all her heart when she said she’d rather suffer for her entire life than see her son sick — and that’s all the divine intervention I needed.
(Courtesy of Mickey Z.)
Over the years, Mom bravely struggled with an incredibly wide array of illnesses, never succumbing to self-pity or surrender. I once teased her about how she was working her way through the medical dictionary, leaving scorched earth in her path. She met her match, however, when diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2005. She lived in Texas at the time as she and my Dad had moved there to be closer to my sister and their granddaughter. This meant more trips than usual for me.
Mom had surgery. She tried chemo. She even tried an experimental treatment. By the fall of 2007, she called off the fight and decided to move forward without any further medical interventions. Shortly after Thanksgiving of that year, my Mom went into the hospital. No one seemed to fully comprehend the severity of this situation so, even though I had spent one week of every month that year in Texas, I did not immediately rush down from New York City.
I was stunned when my sister called to explain that our mother had ended up in a trance of sorts caused by hypercalcemia and had been given her Last Rites. But suddenly, Mom snapped out of it and experienced a temporary recovery (with much pain and suffering ahead). I spoke with her on the phone while she was still in the hospital and she explained to me how she called for me each and every night. She absolutely knew she was close to death and was even ready for it, but said she couldn’t let go until she saw me one more time.
How lucky am I to have been loved so deeply that another human being was willing to hang on and face immense, unimaginable suffering just to see me one more time? I will carry this knowledge with me until the day I die.
Well, she got out of the hospital and I was in Texas within a matter of days. I spent a rough week there, having never seen my indestructible Mom so incapacitated and needing so much help. I was grateful to have the chance to wait on her and cater to her needs for once. When the day came for me to return home, my Dad went outside to watch for my cab to the airport. Mom and I had to say goodbye, fully aware that we might not ever see each other again.
She said: “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I wonder what’s going to happen in your life,” she replied. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
I can still see her face and hear her voice as she said this.
“Neither do I,” I joked. “But this isn’t goodbye, Ma. I am going to see you again soon. We’re not saying goodbye yet. I know it.”
Somehow, I knew I would see her again and that it wasn’t yet time to tell her — one more time — how I felt and to say one last thank you. I now realize this was a major gamble on my part… but fortunately, I was right. I was gifted with a chance to say goodbye.
(Courtesy of Mickey Z.)
My Mom went into the hospice on January 4, 2008. She was in the hospital yet again (broken hip, this time) and about to be heavily sedated so I knew I didn’t have much time to truly say goodbye. In November, I felt in my soul that I’d see her again. This time, of course, I knew there’d be no reprieve. No second chance.
I asked my Dad and sister to give me five minutes alone with my Mom. It was, without a doubt, the most amazing and profound five minutes of my life. Also the saddest, the most meaningful, and perhaps the most important five minutes I’d ever experience.
I leaned in close and told her she was the best Mom in the world.
She replied: “Thank you.”
Me: “Thank you for everything.”
Mom: “You’re welcome.”
Me: “I love you so much.”
Mom: “I love you, too.”
Me: “I’m the luckiest son in the world.”
Then I couldn’t help it. I burst out crying. My Mom looked at me the same exact way she always had whenever I was sad or sick or upset since I was a baby. She said: “Oh sweetie.” Some primal instinct kicked in as she summoned the strength to raise herself up a bit and reach out with both arms to hug me. I leaned forward to hug her back and buried my face in her neck and shoulder… and kept crying.
Me: “I’m sorry, Mom.”
Mom: “It’s okay.”
Me: “I just love you so much and hate to see you suffering like this.”
Mom: “I’m sorry.”
(Even in the midst of her dreadful situation, she was actually apologizing to me for making me cry!)
Me: “You never have to apologize to me. You’ve done so much for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better Mom.”
She leaned forward and kissed me.
Me: “I’m gonna be all right, you know that, right?”
She nodded “yes.”
Me: “You’re my best friend.”
Mom: (with a smile) “Thank you.”
Me: “I’ll always love you.”
My sister and Dad returned to the room. As I wiped my face, I knew I would never forget or take for granted the opportunity I just had.
Thank you for reading these remembrances. As we live through a time of upheaval and division, I have some humble suggestions to offer. I’ll begin with what sounds like a cliché: Let people know how you feel about them. Don’t leave your love or admiration or gratitude unspoken. It’s been almost 13 years since I had those five minutes with my mother and that experience still carries me through tough times.
Also, it’s so, so easy to focus on the negative. Thanks to the media and our newsfeeds, such energy has never been more accessible or pervasive. Pay closer attention, however, and you will recognize the miracles occurring all around you. Slow down and take notice of them. Share what you see with others so they too may discover this perspective. This is how the deepest bonds are created and maintained. As Bruce Springsteen once said when eulogizing a long-time bandmate: “Those you are with, in the presence of miracles, you never forget.”
Mickey Z. can be found here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!