It started in Kindergarten.

The hospitals and doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. The sleepless nights she endured wracked with pain and the anxiety that followed the asthma attacks. The woman I only knew as mom was a pretty sick woman. And there was nothing for a five year old to do about it or understand.

So when my teacher, Ms. Suess, threatened to keep the class after school a shock ran through my spine. It was the day I was supposed to go to the hospital after school or the day she was supposed to come home from there, I no longer hold the memory. But in my five year old mind all I knew was that I would get to see Mom again at 3PM.

And now that hung in the balance.

I cried. When my teacher asked why I was crying I told her bluntly, “Because I might not get to see my mommy again.” An irrational thought, but not to a five year old who has had sickness remove his mother from the home for weeks at a time. Rheumatoid Arthritis, severe asthma, angina, heart palpitations, diabetes. Each one cost me time spent with mom. Time cannot be retrieved and the separations don’t repair itself. It was the way things were. How often does a five year old, or a six year old or a nine year old merely want their mother? For me, there were times I just couldn’t have her.

One cannot blame anyone for absence because of sickness. Even school children are excused from their duties for the sniffles and workers given sick days as a routine measure of the employment standards. Mom couldn’t be blamed for her absence either. This was not her fault.

She was nearing fifty when things got worse. There was the Christmas around 3rd grade when she laid on the living room couch crying with the pain. I remember sitting near her not knowing what was going on.

“Don’t cry, mom.” I said tenderly. Not knowing what was going on. She smiled at me, even laughed a little, but it didn’t stop the tears brought on by the pain. Slowly her body rejected this and pain radiated throughout her system. The ambulance came and took her away. My father looked worried. My older sister sat home with me that day and became more motherly than sisterly. 16 years my senior, she’d dote on me and take me everywhere. She even lost a job for me, a good job, as an aide in a day care center, because she needed to be home to take care of me because mom was once again in the hospital.

Somehow, mom grew stronger, or the doctors got smarter, or God just decided “not yet.” High school came and went and mom wasn’t there at graduation day. The hospital became the place for the after-party. A rainy Saturday four years later had mom standing on a rainy parade ground watching me receive my bachelor’s degree. Gratitude filled me for what she had given me despite it all and for my father who stood by her all those years, 42 to be exact. Big sister insisted I go and party with friends instead of them that day. A decision I regret now, as time has passed.

Somehow 10 years passed and mom had ups and downs. Colon problems became the latest issue. I brought Marion home to meet the folks. Dad loved her and I knew then she was the one. His approval was one of spotting loyalty and commitment, two attributes my wife and father both share beyond measure. Wedding plans were made and all was right with the world.

“You’re not going anywhere but into the hospital.” the doctor said.

“But my son’s wedding, it’s in three days.”

“Nope. Sorry. Absolutely not.”

Another crushing absence. We included Mom in the prayers of the faithful and we hopped into my best man’s car to head to the hospital in full wedding attire. We learned a valuable lesson that day. Brides get great access to hospitals. People smiled at that beautiful girl and just let her walk anywhere she pleased. I joked with her about going to watch some kind of surgery. We cried with mom because she couldn’t be there. We considered postponing and realized it just wasn’t practical. Expensive deposits would be lost, rescheduling the out of town guests, etc. I was simply too late to turn things around. The show, as they say, must go on.

And somehow it did. A 50th anniversary. A Master’s Degree graduation where she watched from the wheelchair as I was asked to carry the class banner in the ceremony. And then a 60th anniversary. Unbelievable. Time spent in painful misery and joyful elation simultaneously.

My sister was informed of colon cancer a few weeks ago. Her prognosis is good and things look like they will hash themselves out rather well. She’s 57 and has also lived with diabetes for more than 30 years. She retired early last year when she got a package incentive to do so, but we know it’s because she just was not feeling healthy.

Heredity’s a bitch. And the waiting is nerve wracking. When will my time be to get sick? Or will I beat the odds? Do I have more of my father’s genetic make-up who has lived a far healthier life? Who knows?

But I do know that worry is the enemy. Worry is what gives evil and opportunity to push you into desolation and keep you there.

One of my college roommates, who lives a fairly worry-free life, once said to me that if I could just let go of worry, I would probably be able to do a bunch of great things. He was right. Getting out of our own way, is often the key to finding gratitude. And waiting for illness and death to come when life can be enjoyed with tasks accomplished along the way is indeed something to relish.

Because one thing is for certain…

All we have is the present moment. Live it today with vigor. And call the family and give some time to them today.

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